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Luke pilot reaches rare milestone, surpasses 3k flying hours in F-16

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, comes to a stop following a momentous sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. During the flight, Rassas surpassed three thousand flying hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, becoming one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, comes to a stop following a momentous sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. During the flight, Rassas surpassed three thousand flying hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, becoming one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, smiles from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon after completing a milestone sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.  This flight pushed Rassas passed three thousand flying hours in the F-16, making him one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, smiles from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon after completing a milestone sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. This flight pushed Rassas passed three thousand flying hours in the F-16, making him one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, smiles from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon after completing a milestone sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.  This flight pushed Rassas passed three thousand flying hours in the F-16, making him one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, smiles from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon after completing a milestone sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. This flight pushed Rassas passed three thousand flying hours in the F-16, making him one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, poses with his family in front of an F-16 Fighting Falcon following his 2,024th sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.  During the flight, Rassas surpassed three thousand hours in the F-16, becoming one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

Col. Sean Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, poses with his family in front of an F-16 Fighting Falcon following his 2,024th sortie Nov. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. During the flight, Rassas surpassed three thousand hours in the F-16, becoming one of only 296 U.S. Air Force pilots to reach that unique milestone.

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

As of Nov. 23, 2020, only 295 pilots worldwide could claim to have surpassed three thousand flying hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.  That number is now 296.

Col. Sean “Double” Rassas, 944th Fighter Wing vice commander, soared past his three thousandth hour in the fighter aircraft, Nov. 24, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.  The milestone was reached during his 2,024th sortie. 

The 944th Fighter Wing is home to the 69th Fighter Squadron, one of the most experienced group of F-16 pilots in the U.S. Air Force.  The average pilot in the 69th FS has logged around 1,600 hours in the airframe, demonstrating how unique this achievement is.

“Three thousand hours is a remarkable accomplishment in any airframe,” said Col. Jim Greenwald, 944th Fighter Wing commander.  “These days it is becoming more rare to reach, especially as we are transitioning people to the F-35.  Even though we are making that gradual shift we believe it is still extremely important for us to retain that high level of experience in the F-16, which makes this a tremendous achievement for “Double” to reach.”

Rassas, a 1996 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, first knew he wanted to be a pilot at age 16 when he parked at the end of the runway at the Chicago Air and Water Show to watch the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform.  From that point forward, he was laser-focused on turning that dream into reality.

“All I ever wanted to do since I was a kid was be a fighter pilot,” Rassas recalled.  “To still be able to do that after more than 20 years is incredible.”

Rassas’ journey to become an F-16 pilot was difficult, but ultimately very rewarding. 

“When I went through, there were only 225 [Undergraduate Pilot Training] slots for over one thousand applicants,” said Rassas.  “It was a challenging career field to get into, but worth every hurdle.”

Despite the challenges, Rassas made the cut and graduated from UPT in January 1998.  He was subsequently trained in the F-16 as a student pilot with the 308th Fighter Squadron, here.  Throughout his career he believes it has been very rewarding and has allowed him to learn some incredible life lessons along the way that may have never presented themselves if he hadn’t been a pilot.

Rassas recalled a moment in 2004 when he experienced loss of consciousness from excessive and sustained G-forces draining blood from the brain during flight.

“Having that happen changed my perspective on life and it has created a path that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise,” said Rassas.

Rassas took his new-found vision and has used it to live a life of gratitude and purpose. He spends intentional quality time with his family, lives life more spontaneously, and became more aware of his Airmen’s need to ensure they are living life in the most fulfilling way to them. All of this because he is acutely aware that tomorrow is never promised.

“People always say life is precious,” said Rassas. “Until you recognize what that means, it doesn’t become important to you.”

Now, after 14 assignments and nearly 22 years, Rassas is still pursuing his dream job and living life like tomorrow doesn’t exist.

“I still enjoy every time I go up,” said Rassas. “It makes serving even more satisfying.”