Serving with the USAF
My airshow pilot career started when I learned how to control fear at the least levels. This was due to my experience flying on an MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft just after completing high school. But, that inspiration came from a very good source….my dad.
My father, Lee Melby, served in the early 1950’s as a Boom Operator on a KC-97 refueling plane. His job was to inflight refuel aircraft from a four engine propeller cargo type airplane. At that time, this was all top secret and it was revolutionary. They had tried this in the past, but this was completely new. What was interesting is that the whole inside of the aircraft was filled with fuel tanks to provide aerial refueling services to both bombers and fighters. It was a part of the Cold War mission to provide global reach of American bomber and fighter aircraft. He told me stories of how he used to dream of flying as a kid, but being raised on a farm in southern Minnesota, there were not a lot of opportunities to fly back then. So he joined the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, but was moved to the newly created Aerial Refueling group within the Strategic Air Command to gain that opportunity to fly.
His stories of living on the beach in Florida, traveling to Europe and North Africa, and the exciting adventures were so inspiring to me as a child. It seemed that my father had some of the greatest memories of his life flying for the Air Force. Although he didn’t have the opportunity to complete his pilots license, those Air Force missions were sensational and unique.
I told the recruiting specialist that I wanted to fly!
After completing High School, I wasn’t interested in attending college. At that time, I was more interested in serving my country and seeing the world just as my father did. After taking my Armed
Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), I scored high enough to work in anything that was mechanical based. So I went to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Phoenix where I took a complete physical and then spoke with the enlistment counselor regarding possible positions available in the United States Air Force. Speaking with the recruiting specialist, I stated “I want to fly”. The specialist sort of laughed. He said “I have never seen an enlisted flying position open for someone not already in the Air Force”. But I asked him to check on his computer if a “Loadmaster” position was open. The Loadmaster is responsible for supervising loading crews on cargo aircraft, then flying with the cargo as part of the aircraft crew. I envisioned flying all over the world as a crewmember, but I had to get the job first.
As the recruiting specialist looked, he said “Wow! I can’t believe there are 3 positions nationwide available”. He then stated, “If you want it, you better take it now”. Although I never spoke to my parents about me even going to the recruiting center, I decided right then and there to take the job and enlist. So I did. A few minutes later I was “swearing in” with the oath of duty with a 4 month delayed enlistment to attend basic training. When I got home, my dad was not happy with me. He said, “I can’t believe you didn’t even talk to me about this!”. Being 18 years old, I know I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the toolshed, but both of us looking back at that time…it was one of the best decisions I had ever made in my life.