When an Air Force major called J.J. completed a solo flight in the U-2 in late August 2016 — 60 years after the high-flying aircraft was introduced — he became the 1,000th pilot to do so.

J.J., whose name was withheld by the U.S. Air Force for security reasons, earned his solo patch a few days after pilots No. 998 and No. 999. Those three pilots are in distinguished company, two fellow pilots said this month.

"We have a pretty small, elite team of folks. We're between about 60 and 70 active-duty pilots at any given time," Maj. Matt "Top" Nauman said during an Air Force event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.

"We're about 1,050 [pilots] right now. So to put that in context, there are more people with Super Bowl rings than there are people with U-2 patches," Nauman added. "It's a pretty small group of people that we've hired over the last 60 to 65 years."

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AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner

Editor’s Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk and Brendan McGarry originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

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Air Force

The Air Force has over the past few years grappled with operational demands that have drained its resources and strained its personnel.

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U.S. Air Force photo

At the end of fiscal year 2016 in September that year, the Air Force had 1,555 fewer pilots than it needed, including 1,211 missing fighter pilots.

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U.S. Air Force photo

Air Mobility Command has grounded the C-5 Galaxy cargo planes operating at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after the second malfunction of a nose landing-gear unit in the past 60 days.

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Photo via Associated Press

The U.S. is "prepared" to execute a preemptive first strike against North Korea, using conventional weapons, "should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test," several anonymous U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News this evening.

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