Earning his wings: Isabella native to begin fighter pilot training

Published 9:07 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chilton County native Keith Conway knew as early as age 13 he wanted to join the Air Force.

Thursday, he will see his dream become reality as he is commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) at Auburn University to begin training as a fighter pilot.

Conway will train at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program. Of the 20 AFROTC graduates from Auburn, Conway is the only one who will be going into ENJJPT.

“This has been a goal for a long time, probably since I was about 13,” Conway said.

Even before that, his goals as a child were quite lofty.

“When I was little, I always wanted to be an astronaut. This kind of fell in line with that,” Conway said, crediting his parents, David and Pat Conway of Isabella, for encouraging him to pursue his dreams.

Conway’s brother, Brent, was also a big influence because he served in the Civil Air Patrol and the Air Force. Keith went on to join the Civil Air Patrol in April 2000. He went on to graduate from Isabella High School in 2005 and eventually became Wing Commander over the Auburn Air Force ROTC.

Friday, he will graduate from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Arts in industrial systems engineering.

“My goal is to be a fighter pilot and to hopefully one day have a commercial flight job,” Conway said.

ENJJPT is a program developed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ran by the Air Force as a joint training program between the U.S. and other NATO countries. Air Force pilots have the option to compete for either ENJJPT or standard undergraduate pilot training. Graduates of ENJJPT, which are generally the top 10 percent of ROTC and Air Force Academy graduates, go on to fly fighters or bombers.

Phase one consists of academic classes and pre-flight training. Phase two consists of 26 weeks of primary aircraft training on the T-6, and phase three yet another 26 weeks of advanced aircraft training on the T-38 supersonic trainer.

The ENJJPT program lasts approximately 55 weeks. Upon completion, officers receive their silver U.S. wings and are awarded the aeronautical rating of pilot.

Conway said he expects the academic portion of training to be the most difficult because of the degree of accuracy and precision involved.

But he speaks with confidence.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to handle it,” he said.

In August, Conway will marry his fiancée, Ashley Holmes of Decatur.