F/A-18 Fighter Pilot Calls Lee’s Summit home
The family legacy of military service may have been the initial spark that inspired retired Lt. Col. Paul Amey to launch his military career. But he was the very first in his family to ever earn his aviation “Wings of Gold.”
It was in his sophomore year of college at Benedictine College when Paul came to terms with the reality that his football scholarship wouldn’t lead to a career in the NFL. When Paul’s father prompted him to consider military service, his father’s own service as a Marine in WWII lent him credibility for such a recommendation.
Paul earned his stripes during his 9-year active duty service as a pilot in the U.S. Navy. He then switched to his hometown Air Force Reserve Unit known as the “KC Hawgs” flying the A-10 Warthog in 2000. Now a commercial airline pilot and instructor for United Airlines, Paul’s roots in military flight remain deep and influential. When he isn’t flying over Munich and Dublin in a Boeing 777, he performs flyovers at local high school football games.
The team Paul flies with, KC Flight, is a local all-volunteer civilian formation team. It comprises a group of both civilian and retired military pilots who like an opportunity to scratch their itch. But more importantly, Paul and pilots like him recognize that lending an emotional impact at public events also serves a greater purpose. Performing flyovers at Kansas City’s Memorial Day Celebration at the Station not only helps him relive the days of flying in his old squadron, but it may also inspire young, future pilots on the ground and bring a sense of unity to the Midwest community.
“There is a sense of that same kind of comradery I had in the military when you’re formation flying,” he says.
Prior to this, Paul served in the Air Force reserves for three years while attending college. Those years were the ones that divided him from other ambitious cadets looking to earn their wings.
In January 1986, Paul attended his first Air Force Reserves drill period where he interacted with a handful of A10-Warthog pilots. It was the interaction with these pilots that inspired his career decision. The idea of flying fighters and protecting troops on the ground with life-saving ground cover was all he needed to begin his journey.
“I knew right then that this is what I wanted to do,” Paul says. “I need to be active; I can’t really be myself if I am wearing a suit and tie and sitting in an office. I knew this was the right move for me.”
Paul started financing his way by throwing boxes for UPS while attending classes in the afternoon. Once he started flying, Paul abandoned his football career, dropped out of Benedictine College and sniffed out an FAA-approved civilian aviation training program. It just so happens there was an excellent one down the street at the University of Central Missouri.
During his senior year at UCM, Paul was selected into the highly competitive Naval Aviation Cadet Program. This program, unlike others which required bachelor degrees from its candidates, sought out students who had no college degree but at least 60 college credits. While being the exact type of program Paul needed to earn his wings, it did not come without a cost.
“You couldn’t be married or have any dependents, and you were required to live on base,” Paul says. “You earned half of an Ensign’s pay for the duration of the training, but you didn’t actually have any rank. You would not be a commissioned officer until you earned your wings. There were all these restrictions.”
The stakes were high for Paul; if he or other cadets washed out of flight school, they owed the U.S. Navy two years of “swabbing decks.” But Paul was willing to risk it all for the opportunity to fly fighters.
Thus he was released by his Air Force Reserve unit and dropped out of UCM his senior year to join the U.S Navy. Before he went to Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida, Paul struck a deal with Dr. John Horine who was the director of the aviation department at UCM. If Paul completed naval flight school and got his Wings of Gold, which could take up to two years, Dr. Horine would grant him his degree.
Despite the fact that Paul was still 12 credits shy from a bachelor’s degree when he completed flight school on Dec 1,8 1990, Dr. Horine stayed true to his promise.
“I was commissioned as an officer, earned my wings, and received my degree all on that same day,” Paul says. “And 10 days later I married the love of my life.”
Paul says his most valuable take-away from his military service was exemplified in his six deployments, five of which were to Iraq and Afghanistan. Being one of the very first reserve air units into Iraq after the regime change in 2003, Paul quickly learned how to put political opinions and personal feelings aside when it meant protecting troops on the ground. His discipline in compartmentalization is what helped bring numerous men and women home to their families. And this same sense of duty colors Paul’s approach to work and family to this day.
For more information, visit KCFlight.com.