114th Operations Group Commander reaches flying milestone

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Duane Duimstra
  • 114th Fighter Wing

F-16 engines whirr on the flightline as pilots land and park after the morning training sortie on Aug. 14. For one pilot, this flight means reaching a big milestone.


Col. Cory Kestel, 114th Operations Group commander, lands at Joe Foss Field, S.D. after achieving 3,000 flying hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon. 


“I never even thought about something like this. The time in the jet all blurs together, but the times when I had an impact are the times I won’t forget,” said Kestel.


Kestel began pilot training in 2000 where he flew the T-37. He started flying the F-16 in November 2001. Kestel has flown in support of numerous operations in Turkey, Iraq, South Korea, and Afghanistan, as well as supporting domestic operations and numerous training deployments.


He reached 1000 flying hours in 2007 and 2,000 flying hours in 2014. To put it in perspective, 3,000 flying hours adds up to more than four months of a pilot's life. Kestel has not had a single serious mechanical issue throughout those 3000 hours of sorties. 


The combination of experience, knowledge, and work ethic of the 114th Maintenance Group Airmen ensures the F-16s are ready for flight and the pilots are able to execute the mission.


One thing that stands out to me is the fantastic work that our maintainers do and I’m very thankful for that,” said Kestel.


As a young pilot and lieutenant, Kestel never sought out to achieve this milestone. The hours on the jet just added up for him. For Kestel, it’s what you do during those flying hours that's most important.


I’ve had the honor of flying with, and in support of, some amazing Americans. It’s those times I was able to do my job, and accomplish the mission, that is what I will remember.”


The journey to reach this milestone started 19 years ago for Col. Kestel, but as the 114th Operations Group commander, Kestel's goals have changed.


“I just want our team to be successful and for the Lobos to continue flying fighters for many years to come.” said Kestel.