(NewsNation Now) — After 33 years and about 5,000 hours in the air, Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley is hanging up his wings for good. A real-life “Top Gun” Maverick, Feheley is the oldest F-16 pilot to retire.
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Feheley’s first job was as a young stockbroker in Miami, but he knew he wanted more. He decided to take flying lessons locally, and quickly realized he had a passion for the craft, according to a statement.
Feheley joined the United States Air Force in 1988 with the hopes of becoming an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. Unfortunately, at the time, the position for that fighter jet was unavailable, so he began training for the A-10 Warthog.
He flew the A-10 from 1990 to 1994, when he got accepted for his coveted position of F-16 pilot.
He has since served in every military campaign since Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Feheley’s retirement came at 59 years and 364 days of age. “Well, I definitely don’t feel 60,” Feheley said during an appearance on “Morning in America.” “When I looked at my grandfather when he was 60, he was an old man. And I don’t feel that way now.”
Feheley attributes his feeling young to flying. “It does,” Feheley said. “You’re constantly surrounded by a bunch of brand new second lieutenants that come in the squadron with their hair on fire. And they keep you from being an old man.”
Most service members spend 20 years in the military and then retire. Feheley’s career spanned 33 years.
“I think kind of like everybody at first I joined for patriotism,” he said. “And then somewhere along the line, I figured out that it was really cool to be a fighter pilot and get to shoot missiles, drop bombs and break things. And in the end, I was able to spend 22 years at Homestead Air Reserve Base, the 482nd Fighter Wing there. And it’s 22 years of people and memories and deployments, that are the things and making those friendships are the things that keep you in the Air Force for 33 years.”
What advice does Feheley have for young recruits who are stepping into a plane for the first time?
“The answer there would be to truly follow your dreams,” he said. “Figure out what you want to be when you go out the door in the morning, something that you love, because if you don’t love it, you’re not going to be good at it. And then do the hard work to make that happen.”
What’s next for Feheley?
“I’m going to be a general contractor,” he said. “I have a Florida general contractor’s license. And so instead of dropping bombs and breaking things, I’m going to build a few things and figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up.”
Watch the full interview with Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley in the video player at the top of the page.