Flight Engineer surpasses rare milestone

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Working at 20,000 feet in a C-130 Hercules has been one Airman’s passion for more than three decades of his 38-year career.

U.S. Air Force Reserve Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Kunkel, 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130 flight engineer, reached 10,000 flying hours Oct. 6, 2018 – a mark considered very rare amongst military aviators.

“Most people are fortunate to get to 5,000 hours in a flying career so achieving double that is extremely rare and is a monumental accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. Frank Wilde, 746 EAS commander. “I think a milestone like this is an indication of an incredible work ethic. That’s a value we want to instill in our Airmen."

Kunkel said that clocking in more than 10,000 hours just came by doing a job that he loves.

“It’s been a goal of mine for a while,” said Kunkel. “Flight engineers that I grew up with came close but didn’t quite make it. I thought it would be a cool thing to [achieve]. It took me a long time to accomplish it, more than 31 years.”

Kunkel has spent time as a flight engineer, instructor and evaluator. He's also part of a special aerial firefighting mission. After installing a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System onto the C-130, he and his fellow reservists, flying as low as 150 feet, use the MAFFS to draw containment lines of retardant, aiding ground fire fighters' efforts in suppressing wildland fires. 

“It’s definitely a demanding mission,” he said. “You protect structures and homes. You feel good that you could help people out that may have lost their home otherwise.”

Kunkel is also aware of aviation history, taking advantage of opportunities to support missions that pay respect to historic flights.

“I’ve flown some special missions but one of the most memorable ones was in East Berlin for the 40th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift,” he said. “It was a pretty unique mission. I’ve flown around the world and done some unique missions but that’s one I’ll always remember. It must have been pretty extraordinary to airlift that much support to the population.”

Kunkel uses his opportunity to encourage others down the same path he has followed for the past 38 years.

“The thing about experience is you have to live through it,” said Kunkel. “You can’t give someone a pill or book that gives you experience, you have to be in the airplane through all the years and learn it. It’s been very rewarding and I hope I can continue to teach and mentor flight engineers who are willing to listen.”

With the distinguished 10,000-hour mark now behind him, Kunkel said he isn’t ready to slow down yet, and will continue paying his experience and expertise forward to the next generation.

“I’m hoping the (U.S. Air Force) Reserve lets me do this for a couple more years,” he said. “I always try to lead by example, be professional and help out my wingmen. I hope to pass on my knowledge to younger flight engineers. I hope they can take away something when learning from me.”