Grandsons of Matthew LaCourse, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron pilot/controller, Brody Brechtel (4) and Lincoln LaCourse (4) and his wife, Tina, celebrate his 2,000 hour milestone in the F-4 Phantom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa Norman)
by Staff Sgt. Rachelle Elsea
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
10/10/2012 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Matthew LaCourse, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron pilot and controller, and native of San Antonio, Texas, recently reached 2,000 flying hours in the F-4 Phantom, a milestone many pilots rarely accomplish.
In addition to the hours spent in the F-4, he has also accumulated approximately 1,500 hours in the T-37 Tweet, AT-38 Talon, F-16C Fighting Falcon and E-9A, a medium-range turboprop.
At a young age, as the son of an Army helicopter pilot, he knew this was the path life would take him.
"I liked aviation a lot," said LaCourse. "I spent a lot of time reading military aviation history. There wasn't anything that I didn't like about it."
LaCourse, a 1978 Air Force Academy graduate, spent 22 years in the Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2000. For several years, he tried jobs in other career fields, but found himself back on the flight line.
"I was a finance representative for while, a test engineer at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for a while, a program manager at the Panama City Naval Support Activity for a while, and then Lockheed Martin had an opening for an E-9 driver here as a contractor, so I applied and was hired," LaCourse said. "Through attrition, when all the F-4 guys were quitting, I got to go back into the F-4 again."
Since his return in 2003, he has been working so hard that he didn't even notice he had reached an impressive landmark.
"I don't even keep track of my hours," said LaCourse. "I never thought I would reach 2,000 hours and low and behold it happened. It's pretty cool ... I would have liked to have done it a lot sooner. There aren't a lot of people that can say that and there probably won't be many more because these jets are going away in 2014."
"We do a really neat mission here," said Lt. Col. Todd Houchins, 82nd ATRS director of operations. "We do weapons evaluation testing for not only Air Combat Command, but also Defense Department-wide and foreign military programs. The reason this is such a big deal is because this is the last squadron in the Air Force flying F-4s."
It is a dying breed unfortunately, it is about to end within the next two years or so as we bring the QF-16 on board, he added.
Out of all the aircraft LaCourse has had the honor of flying, he said the F-4 has always been his preferred aircraft.
"The F-16 is a sports car, and it was a lot of fun to fly," LaCourse said. "The E-9 was a gentleman's airplane and it was nice to fly in bad weather because it was situated for that. But, the F-4 is my favorite because it is the last of the iron jets and the last of the Vietnam-era fighters."
The F-4 has a very lengthy legacy in Air Force history.
"Go to an air show and watch the F-4 and see where everyone stops by," said LaCourse. "There are people that flew it, their fathers flew it, their grandfathers flew it, there are people that worked on it, their fathers worked on it, their grandfathers worked on it, and there are people alive today because a bunch of F-4s showed up in Vietnam and got them out of a very hairy position. There are a lot of people attached to the jet."
As much as LaCourse admires his jet, so do the people that have the opportunity to work alongside him.
"Matt is great to work with and he is very professional," said Jerry Heikkinen, 82nd ATRS safety officer. "He has a lot of experience that is essential to the drone program. His expertise in flying the F-4 makes it possible for us to present the threat representative targets for weapons testing. He has a great demeanor and we are very fortunate to have him in our squadron and the wing."
Heikkinen is also a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel with several decades of experience. Not only does LaCourse impress his peers, but also the pilots new to the F-4.
"He is one of the most experienced pilots and I am one of the least experienced pilots," said Colonel Houchins. "I just hit 14 hours and it is quite an experience learning from a 2,000-hour pilot. It is an honor to get to fly with these guys."
They are also encouraged by his spirit.
"He is very uplifting and loves to fly," Colonel Houchins said. "I don't suppose any one would still be doing it if they didn't. He is extremely personable and you can tell family is very important to him, as is golf, his favorite sport. He is just a great guy all the way around and it is a pleasure to work with him."
LaCourse said he has no plans of re-retiring anytime soon because he is doing what he loves with some great people.
"I will fly as long as they will let me," said LaCourse. "I have the best job. I don't have to sit at a desk in an office; my desk is in the sky."