With final approach, U-2 pilot's career makes celebrated landing

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By Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing / Published April 25, 2014


Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky receives 100 percent oxygen an hour before his flight April 20, 2014, at an airfield in Southwest Asia. U-2 pilots receive the oxygen for approximately an hour to remove nitrogen and other gases from the body to prevent decompression sickness. Klosky is a 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 mission pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky receives 100 percent oxygen one hour before his flight April 20, 2014, in Southwest Asia. U-2 pilots receive the oxygen for approximately one hour to remove nitrogen and other gasses from the body to prevent decompression sickness. Klosky is a 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 mission pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Physiological support technicians with the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron help Lt. Col Jeff Klosky don his high-altitude full pressure suit before flight April 20, 2014, in Southwest Asia. The full pressure suit provides protection to Klosky and other U-2 pilot, at extreme high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Full pressure suit helmets sit in the aircrew locker room at the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. The helmets, unique to the U-2, are the only ones in the Air Force capable of sustaining pilots during high-altitude flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Airmen with the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron integrate Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky into his U-2, April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. U-2 pilots need additional help boarding their aircraft because of their full pressure suits. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky sits inside a U-2 preparing for his flight April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. The flight marked Klosky’s 2,500th hour of flight in the U-2. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


A member of the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assists in the removal of the temporary landing gear on a U-2 April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. The U-2 utilizes temporary landing gear to reduce weight in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky lands his aircraft April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. The flight marked Klosky’s 2,500th hour of flight in the U-2. He is a 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 mission pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)


Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky is congratulated by members of the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron following his flight April 20, 2014, at a flightline in Southwest Asia. The flight marked Klosky’s 2,500th hour of flight in the U-2. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)

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SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) --

(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Lt. Col. Jeff Klosky is an aviator who has spent much of his life racing out of twilight and into the dawn. After a storied career, spanning 19 years in the U-2, sundown has finally become visible on his horizon.

Klosky, whose father was an officer in the Navy, has had an appreciation for military life from a young age. It was largely because of his upbringing that he eventually landed in the Air Force. A summer visit to his grandparents found a 7-year-old Klosky on an airplane for the first time in his life.

"We were flying out of D.C. National Airport," Klosky recalled. "I just remember looking out the window and as soon as they pushed the engines up being pushed back in my seat. Then getting to see the Washington Monument, the White House and all the neat buildings there through the window; it just sank into me there that, that's what I wanted to do with my life."

It wasn't long before Klosky was plotting the coordinates to achieving that dream. As soon as he reached the age to take lessons, his parents signed him up at the Andrews Air Force Base, Md., aero club. Driver's license in hand, Klosky was making the hour-long trip to the base on a regular basis.

From that point on, the only way forward was a career in aviation.

"With my dad being in the Navy, he was aware of the academies," Klosky said. "He knew I wanted to fly, so he didn't push me towards the Navy at all. That's how I got my interest in the Air Force Academy, and I graduated with the class of 1989. My career just went from there."

After completing his first assignment as a T-37 Tweet instructor pilot, Klosky was looking for a new challenge. Several of his colleagues had moved on to the U-2, and it piqued his interest as well.

"I wanted to do something a little different," Klosky said. "I looked into the program and it was an all-volunteer assignment. You had to submit a package with your records and apply for the job. After about six months of persistence they finally offered me an interview. I went out in May of 1995 for the interview and I passed. They offered me the job, and I came back later that summer to begin my training."

Klosky spent roughly the next seven years on the road supporting Air Force engagements worldwide. He made stops in France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Korea and other locations around the globe.

"At the end of that period I ended up getting out of the Air Force," Klosky said. "I made the decision to be home more with family. Like everyone else I have a story about where I was on 9/11. It was actually supposed to be my first flight as an airline pilot, but it never happened that day. I came back into the Air Force Reserves and ended up supporting U-2 operations. After about three years of that I decided I'd like to come back to active duty and the Air Force gave me the opportunity to do that."

After a handful of rewarding assignments, Klosky's career is nearing its final approach. He and his wife, Mollie, decided the timing was right to take on one last deployment.

"I am very proud of the man that Jeff is, and for his courage and determination that are evidenced through his commitment to this program," Mollie said. "Although I hold concern for his safety and well-being, like any spouse who waits at home, I have tremendous respect for the mission he is a part of.

"With three children who are 3 years old and younger waiting for him, this mission comes as a sacrifice for us all, and yet I was truly glad for him to go," she said. "We knew this would likely be his last operational mission and I truly wanted him to have that final farewell to what has been such a significant part of his life. We cannot wait for him to come home, but as a set of the kids shirts proudly display, we are 'Just 'plane' proud of Daddy.'"

All told, Klosky has supported nearly every major Air Force engagement in the last 20 years. The steady drive of operational requirements has enabled Klosky to amass a significant ledger of flight hours. On April 20, 2014, Klosky recorded his 2,500th hour of flight, becoming just the third active-duty Air Force U-2 pilot to reach the milestone in the aircraft's more than 55 years of service.

The flight was one of the last of his career. Klosky is set to retire from active duty when he returns to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., this summer.

"Flying the U-2 has been an amazing experience," Klosky said. "It's a small crowd to be a part of. The saying goes that more people have Super Bowl rings than have flown the U-2. I hope that my kids have the opportunity to fly the U-2 someday and be probably one of the first father-son, or father-daughter U-2 pilots. I don't know if that's what they'll want to do, but I'd like to hope they'll have that opportunity. Regardless of what happens, it has been a phenomenal piece of history to be a part of. I think a lot of people will look back and say, 'Wow that was something amazing.'"

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