Aviator shares dad's passion, passes it on to his son

  • Published
  • By Debbie Gildea
  • 340th Flying Training Group Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas – Thirty-two years is a long time to do anything, but when you love what you do, three-plus decades can fly by in the blink of an eye, and that's how it felt for Lt. Col. Andrew Kissinger, newly retired T-6 Texan instructor pilot, 39th Flying Training Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Kissinger, whose heart has pumped to the rhythm of integrity, service and excellence since long before his May 1989 Air Force commissioning, officially retired June 1, 2021 with more than 3,580 hours in the T-6. The second-generation aviator and instructor pilot credits his dad, Dutch, for his passion for flight; for being his first role model, his first hero. Dutch, a retired colonel and Vietnam era F-4 pilot, served for 31 years, setting a bar that his son would one day surpass.

In his heart, Andrew took his place in the long blue line when he was just a lad of 8. Holding his dad's hand, head tilted back as far as his neck would allow, he watched, enthralled, as the Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team performed aerobatics over Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas.

When Dutch told Andrew that those were the same aerial maneuvers he routinely performed as an Air Force instructor pilot, 8-year-old Andrew locked his sights on becoming an Air Force pilot, like his dad, and he did not waiver.

His path to the cockpit differed, though.

While the senior Kissinger enlisted in 1949 as an aircraft mechanic and later accepted a commission and opportunity to fly, his son pursued every avenue that would put him in the pilot's seat, which started with attending the Air Force Academy. Upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, 2nd Lt. Andrew Kissinger started undergraduate pilot training that would see him matriculate into his role piloting the B-52 Stratofortress.

The uniquely effective and instantly recognizable weapon system was equal to the young aviator's buoyant, larger-than-life personality.

After racking up thousands of hours in the workhorse of the cold war, Kissinger made a career decision that opened a host of opportunities for him, enabling him to continue to serve his nation while balancing personal and professional goals.

His decision to transfer to the Air Force Reserve in 1998 also brought him back to the mission that originally incited his passion for flight. As a Reserve instructor pilot, he would spend the rest of his Air Force career sharing that passion with undergraduate pilot and instructor pilot candidates.

It was not a surprise to those who knew him well, and those who would come to know him over the next two decades.

"What most impressed me is that he always took the extra time to make sure his students succeeded," said teammate Maj. Justin Gittins. "I know this because I was his student 20 years ago in UPT and I’ve watched him help countless students become better pilots.  His best quality was his ability to put people at ease before a stressful flight and help them regain their focus." 

As a traditional Reserve member, he was also able to pursue a civilian career. Not a surprise that he opted to fly commercial aircraft for a well-known passenger airline, and his upbeat personality made him a natural success there, as well.

"He is essentially the fun-loving dad that just enjoys spending time with all of us youngins," said Maj. Justin Perkins. "When he walks in the room he makes everyone’s day better with his corny jokes and infectious laughter; truly a stalwart in our T6 section. He will leave a gigantic hole never to be filled.”

Kissinger's knowledge and expertise in the T-6 made him the natural choice to support and fly various VIPs, including 2017 visits by John A. Fedrigo, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and then U.S. Coast Guard Corpus Christi Sector Commander/Air Station Commanding Officer Capt. Tony Hahn.

Although Kissinger leaves an un-patchable hole in the fabric of the squadron, he also left an unspoken challenge for his former (and future) teammates. Amassing more than 7,500 flying hours, he is excited to meet the next instructor who will top those numbers.

“I am going to miss his positivity and the energy he brings to every room he enters," said Flight Commander Lt. Col. John Camponovo. "His passion for instruction and zeal for life is contagious.  Students consistently rave about his incredible instructional style and ability to connect with them on a personal level…thank you for your friendship and service to the nation and to the COBRAS!”

Although Kissinger has flown his final flight for the Air Force, he will continue to fly commercially, and particularly looks forward to being able to spend more time with his wife Diana and their kids, Nicholas, Anders and Paulina. And, this is far from the end of the Kissinger Air Force legacy.

It may be a few years before 17-year-old Nicholas dons a uniform, but like his dad and granddad, he's already enamored with flight. In preparation for the day that he surpasses the bar his dad has set, Nicholas will begin private flying lessons this summer at the New Braunfels, Texas airport, and already has his sights set on his place in the long blue line.