Fighter pilots are awesome because they make gravity look optional, and they do it at supersonic speeds. But flying tight maneuvers at high-Gs takes a toll on the human spine, and fighter pilots often suffer lifelong injuries that forces many of them into an early retirement.
That's why Col. Todd Hofford, an Oregon Air National Guard F-15 pilot, just broke a major barrier by becoming the first pilot in the world to return to the cockpit of a high-G fighter after undergoing disc replacement surgery, which until now, the Air Force has been hesitant to allow.
"I was determined to turn this around," said Hofford in a recent article by Tech Sgt. Steph Sawyer for the 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs. "I knew it was going to take time. I needed to be patient."
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle departs after receiving fuel from a 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve June 2, 2017. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)
It's been nearly 20 years since the most recent F-15 fighter jet rolled off an assembly line for the U.S. Air Force, and the service is officially looking to add a fresh variant of the aircraft to its inventory.