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Blood test ends U-2 dream, opens door to UAS possibility

  • Published
  • By Joe B. Wiles
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Capt. Brian Strack was on a fast track almost any young Air Force pilot would envy. After several years as an instructor pilot in the T-1 Jayhawk trainer here, he had an assignment to fly the U-2 "Dragon Lady" -- a high-altitude reconnaissance spy plane with a 70,000 foot-plus ceiling that requires a space suit to survive.

Before transferring to the U-2, his appetite increased but his weight started dropping. He was thirsty all the time and was a bit shaky, so he headed for the clinic.

It was the end of 2006, and although Captain Strack didn't know it yet, his flying career was about to make an unscheduled landing on a desert road.

He was scheduled to attend squadron officer school before moving to his assignment to fly the U-2, but a blood test led to the diagnosis of diabetes -- a treatable disease, but not one a pilot can have.

Diabetes, especially Type 1, means you're not fit for duty, unless you want to fight it, said Captain Strack. He had no choice. He loves the Air Force, so fight it he did.

"I figured, I'm healthy and Katie, my wife, is a dietician. We went through the whole medical evaluation board process and I was declared fit for duty," said the young captain from Stevensville, Mont.

After he was declared fit, Captain Strack deployed from Vance AFB to Creech AFB, Nev., as part of an Air Expeditionary Forces deployment to backfill standard base support jobs with temporary people from all over the country.

"We were at Creech with F-15 pilots from Idaho, an F-22 guy from Langley, random people from everywhere," he said. "If you have to deploy to the desert, this was the desert to go to."

He worked in the Operations Support Squadron and 1st Lt. Ben Peterson, a scheduler at Vance, was put to work scheduling students at Creech.

Captain Strack spent 122 days at Creech. "What impressed me is that every officer-held support job on the base is filled by someone deployed to Creech," he said. "They are short manned right now. There are a lot of students for the Predators and Reapers training there."

"For the most part, the pilots from major weapons systems, who were coming to Creech to be a UAS pilot, were pretty much relieved," he said. "They get to go home every night to their families."

During the deployment, Captain Strack was given the chance to sit in on three unmanned aircraft systems missions -- two training and one operational.

"The gee-whiz factor was just incredible," he said. So incredible that he has sent a package to Headquarters Air Force asking for an unmanned aircraft systems assignment, a request that is somewhat of a challenge due to his medical condition.

"They tell me it doesn't look promising, but the door is not shut yet," he said.

If the UAS job doesn't come through, Captain Strack has a backup plan. "I signed up to be an Air Force officer. If I'm not able to fly, then there are others things the Air Force needs done."