Southeast Missouri State University
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Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SOUTHEAST GRADUATE FLYING HIGH

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 8, 2002 - On Monday, Nov. 11, when citizens across the country will observe Veterans Day and honor the men and women who have defended the cause of freedom around the world, a recent Southeast Missouri State University graduate will be at the controls of one of the most advanced fighter planes in the world, based on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea.

Recently, U. S. Navy Lt. Corey Pritchard, a 1996 graduate of Southeast, earned a place in aviation history when he became the first pilot to land Boeing's F/A-18E Super Hornet during its first deployment onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

On July 24, after a 45-minute flight from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., Pritchard brought his F/A-18E Super Hornet onto the deck of the aircraft carrier at 4:01 p.m. Pacific Time.

"I am lucky to be able to go on a maiden deployment of the Super Hornet. The last time this happened was over 20 years ago when the original Hornet was introduced, so this is a big deal," Pritchard said. "Naval aviation is certainly unique, and it is exciting to be a part of that."

Pritchard says the Super Hornet is a superior aircraft because of its ability to carry 18,000 pounds of fuel in a single external centerline fuel tank. In addition, it has three weapons stations under each wing. An earlier model, the Legacy Hornet, carried only 14,500 pounds of fuel in two external tanks and had only two weapons stations under each wing.

"The Super Hornet also has advanced flight control systems that allow fully controllable flight at high angles of attack and very slow airspeed," he said. "It is the only fighter in the world that can carry a refueling pod, in place of a regular centerline fuel tank, and refuel other aircraft airborne."

In a three drop tank configuration, the F/A-18E Super Hornet can carry 23,000 pounds of fuel; with five drop tanks it carries 30,000 lbs of fuel and can move at tactical airspeeds and altitudes, unlike current Navy refueling platforms, he said.

"The best part is that even as a tanker, the Super Hornet can carry missiles and bombs," he added.

Pritchard says that one of the most beneficial aspects of the Super Hornet is its maintenance.

"We currently average around eight to 12 hours of maintenance per aircraft per hour of flight time. The F-14 Tomcat requires more than 50 hours of maintenance per hour of flight time. That is a huge difference and means that more jets are available to fly more often," he said.

Pritchard graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1996 with a bachelor of science degree in engineering physics, a degree program administered by the Department of Physics. In 1997, Pritchard reported to officer candidate school with the hopes of completing flight training and becoming a naval pilot.

"I was a pilot when I showed up at Southeast," Pritchard said. "When I was a kid, the elderly couple up the street had a son, who was a test pilot for McDonald Douglas, and a Missouri Air Guard fighter pilot as well. After meeting him, I was hooked and started flying at the end of high school. I received my private license right after high school and my instrument license while in Cape at the local airport."

After completing his degree at Southeast, Pritchard said he felt sure he was too old to get into flight training and that knee surgery probably had diminished his chances.

"A couple years prior to graduating I began doing aerobatic flying with another test pilot from St. Louis," he said.

That test pilot and the test pilot from McDonald Douglass convinced Pritchard that he still had a shot at military flying.

"I applied at the end of my time at Southeast and was accepted shortly after graduating in December 1996," he said. "I started my Navy experience in Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., a beautiful Navy base which also happens to be where the Blue Angels live and practice."

Pritchard says assignments out of flight school most are based on the luck of timing.

"My grades were good, but I simply finished at the right time to get the first Super Hornet slot out of flight school," he said.

Dr. John Tansil, Southeast associate professor of physics, said, "This illustrates just how far he (Pritchard) has progressed. Corey came to us after spending several years at Purdue. When he started here, he matured and did very well in his studies. His accomplishments have special meaning for me."

Pritchard, of northern Missouri, says his Southeast education has provided him with a sound footing for his military career.

"I believe that having an engineering and physics background and flight experience certainly gave me an edge, although it was not a requirement for this job," he said. "The dedication and flexibility of being a student prepared me for the challenges of flight school, flying in the fleet, and most importantly being an officer in the United States Navy," he said. "I was impressed with all of my professors and enjoyed my time in their classes. With a smaller class size, it was possible to get more direct attention from instructors and build a good relationship between students and faculty."

Bryan Miller of McClure, Ill., a former Southeast student and friend of Pritchard's said, "When Corey entered the engineering program at Southeast, he knew that he wanted to fly jets for a living and was focused on doing well in his studies to achieve that goal."

Pritchard is one of 17 pilots assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-115, the "Eagles," from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. The squadron of twelve F/A-18E "Super Hornets" is headed to the Arabian Sea for a six-month deployment. The Eagles of VFA-115 and Carrier Air Wing CVW-14 on the USS Abraham Lincoln are likely to support Operation Enduring Freedom during their deployment. The $57 million fighter will serve not only as a fighter-interceptor, but also as a tool of force projection, by conducting combat missions in hostile skies when needed.

"I think even though it is a new jet, we put it through an entire set of workups. We've really had a good chance to troubleshoot the jet, groom them, getting them down to where we like them, so I don't think we'll have any problems," Pritchard said. "It is exciting to be here, but to be honest flying around the carrier in any aircraft is a thrill."

Tansil said, "The University is very proud of this graduate. Not many schools can claim a graduate who has become a top military pilot. It's hard to imagine one of my former students at the controls of the most advanced fighter plane in the world, a $57 million high-tech machine. It gives you a feeling of real pride."

When he is not on deployment, Pritchard resides with his wife, who he met at Southeast, and their newborn son.

Pritchard said, at this point, he is not sure about his future aspirations.

"I have always been intrigued by the test pilot world but have come across other areas of interest since getting in the Navy," he said. "Going into Navy Fighter Weapons School, or being a 'Topgun,' is always an interesting option."

"Topguns" are tactics specialists trained to go into fleets and keep squadrons current and proficient in standard air-to-air and air-to-ground tactics used by the Navy.

"It is not easy to get into, but I am keeping that in mind," he said. "Beyond that, I am interested in remaining in the cockpit, hopefully in the Super Hornet.

"Becoming an instructor in the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where new pilots fresh out of flight school are trained, is also an interesting option," he said. "I have not looked much farther ahead than that. My main concern right now is succeeding in my current squadron, hopefully getting some combat flight experience in the process."

Current Southeast students will be getting a taste Monday of what Pritchard deals with on a daily basis. The Southeast Physics and Engineering Club and the National Society of Physics Students will be touring Boeing in St. Louis. Tansil said the groups will hear from another Super Hornet pilot and five Southeast Missouri State University graduates employed at Boeing.

 

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