|OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM, July 3, 2006 — A 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron pilot etched his name in the history books as he became the first pilot to go over 4,000 flying hours in the B-1B.
Lt. Col. Jeff Roetzel recently completed an Operation Enduring Freedom combat mission that put him on a plateau that no other pilot has ever reached.
Immediately after landing at the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, Roetzel was presented with a B-1 4,000-hour patch that only he and one other person have the credentials to wear.
“One of my buddies from home left the patch here for me,” said Roetzel. “We knew coming here that I would go over 4,000.”
Although Roetzel is the only pilot to complete this feat, he is quick to point out that there is one weapons systems officer who also has the distinction of 4,000 flying hours in the B-1.
“I don’t think there’s anybody within 800 hours,” said Roetzel. “I really hope somebody breaks it, but I don’t think that will happen for a long time.”
Unlike many pilots who knew they wanted to fly as small children, Roetzel didn’t decide to make flying a career until he entered college. In 1986, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Arizona where he was studying management information systems.
“My brother (retired Lt. Col. Dave Roetzel) is nine years older than me, and he was an Air Force pilot,” said Roetzel. “He flew C-130s at the time, and he made flying sound like something I’d really like to do. He was definitely the main influence on me becoming a pilot.”
Early in ROTC, Roetzel said he wanted to fly a fighter. However, during training at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., he found out he would be flying B-52s.
“I can’t remember the exact order of aircraft I wanted,” said Roetzel. “I know I was just happy to get a plane that could drop bombs.”
Roetzel flew the B-52 for about a year. In 1989, he was selected for a program that allowed him to transfer to the B-1B.
The lieutenant colonel left the active-duty Air Force in 1996 and joined the Kansas Air National Guard. He also started flying a 737 aircraft for American Airlines. Without the Guard, Roetzel said he never would have reached the 4,000-hour mark.
“I’ve been lucky to fly my whole career,” said Roetzel. “It’s hard to stay in the cockpit for an entire career. Since I started flying, that’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do. In the Guard, I was able to keep flying and not work any staff jobs.
“I know the Air Force needs people to take on leadership roles as they progress through the ranks,” he continued. “In today’s Air Force, it’s very difficult to get 4,000 hours in one aircraft.”
Roetzel said he enjoyed his Guard time, but in 2003, he came back on active duty to finish his B-1 career. He took