Author Interviews

Journey from civilian to combat-ready through the eyes of an American Fighter Pilot

Take an unparalleled look at the incredible journey from civilian to combat-ready through the eyes of an American Fighter Pilot. Author Captain Taylor Fox chronicles his experiences while training to fly the F-16 and F-22 fighter jets in the United States Air Force. Fox weaves a remarkable tale of life as a airman, both on the ground and in the air.
Uniquely honest and without prejudice, Captain Fox’s story bears personal truths, incorporating humor, trepidation, reflection, and a firm dedication to good storytelling.

Each new entry leads to another revelation, and another lesson learned, portrayed with humility, honesty, and the authors own authentic voice.

Why is reading important for our Military and/or the Nation?
I have always felt books are the most efficient manner to gain a wealth of knowledge and perspective. Within a short couple of, often entertaining, hours you can quickly have a uniquely insider knowledge of almost anything in the world. Within a couple of hours you can have years of ideas to make better decisions upon or become a more interesting conversationalist. The ripple effect of this knowledge can have a tremendous effect on your life and the impact you have on the world.

Further, they are often an incredible way to get first hand perspectives of events and thoughts and in this day and age, that has never been more important.

Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others experience? Was there a specific challenge where you were able to rely on others experience to make your decision?
I definitely prefer to learn from other’s mistakes versus making them my own. In aviation, we are constantly reading safety reports of accidents to develop techniques and strategies to mitigate the risk for our own missions. In my personal life, I enjoy books about real estate investing and other self-improvement literature to aid in making good decisions in life. We often learn more from our failures than successes but reading about both are fair easier, and often explained better, learning experiences. This is ultimately the reason I wrote this book with “lessons learned” chapters to bridge the gap between military aviation training and how it can help our personal lives.

I’m no Air Force Fighter Pilot, I don’t have any life-threatening challenges, and I I don’t even know anyone in the military. I’m just an average dad who lives and works in the suburbs, how would this book benefit me?
The book was written to help people with little to no prior military or aviation experience understand what it takes to become a Combat Ready fighter pilot in the modern Air Force. Further, I relate the principles learned in this type of high level training and apply them to personal and professional goals. At the end of the day, we all live in a dynamic, chaotic world with many variables effecting the outcome of desired goals and the fighter pilot approach is an efficient and effective way navigate our world to accomplish any goal.

Is there one short story from your book you would like to share?

“It’s a clear January night in 2015 and I am walking out to my F-16 with the Las Vegas strip providing a jarring contrast to the F-15s, F-15Es, F-22s and Eurofighters I am about to fight with and against. There is a loud high- pitched whistle from adjacent idling jets as I inspect the missiles and six live 500 lb bombs I will be dropping tonight. This mission is a part of Red Flag, the world’s largest advanced aerial combat exercise. Tonight there will be over one hundred and forty jets fighting in one airspace and the job of my four ship (formation of four F-16s) is to put bombs on a surface-to-air missile site.

After deeming the jet airworthy and starting the engine, I go through a variety of checks to make sure all of the sensors, cameras, flight controls and weapons are ready for the mission. I organize my target photos and stow my NVGs (night vision goggles) to the side, waiting for my flight lead to taxi our four ship out to the runway.

Over the radio I hear the other pilots say, “Lobo check,” “2,” “3,” and I respond with “4.”

Nellis ground, Lobo 1, taxi four Vipers from the Red Flag ramp, information Juliet.” With that, our mission begins. We have a precise takeoff time as we only have a five-minute window to drop our bombs, about forty-five minutes from now. We have been preparing this mission to get those bombs on target within that window of time for twenty-four hours. After being cleared for takeoff, I watch three 30’ flames roar down the runway in twenty second intervals, before I follow in my F-16. I push the power up, checking the engine gauges before throwing the throttle full forward into max afterburner. A second or two later, I feel a kick and the rapid acceleration begins. The big flame has lit and 29,000 lbs of thrust is hurtling me down the runway. At 155 knots I pull back on the stick and the rumble of the imperfect runway gives way to the perfect calm air of the night sky. After raising the gear, I am accelerating through 350 knots and locking #3 up with my radar to follow them to the fight airspace.

There is complete darkness over the uninhabited desert so I throw on my night vision goggles. I now see the world, the mountains and desert landscape, through a fuzzy green filter. I am setting up the infrared camera, ensuring the bombs are ready, flying in the proper formation and listening to updates of the war over the radio and via text messages sent to the jet.

Tonight our four ship is staying low, hugging mountains to hide from SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) and keeping out of the chaotic air-to-air war that will undoubtedly unfold above. Other jets should be providing an escort cover so we can focus on our bombing but we have heat-seeking and radar- guided missiles to attack enemy aircraft as well.

As we change to the fight radio frequency, the war is well underway. There isn’t a second of quiet time as guys are shooting and getting shot, and the air battle manager is trying to help everyone understand what’s going on. Through my NVGs, I see hundreds of lights flashing and airplanes expending fireballs, called flares, all across the sky. It is chaos. About that time my flight lead signals us all to drop it down to the floor and push west toward the enemy targets. It now feels like a surreal dream as I am screaming through mountains at 600 mph while keeping track of three other jets in my formation, at times upside down to stay as close to the mountain peaks as we legally can through these NVGs. Without them on, I can’t see anything.

As we cross into enemy territory, I get a terrible beeping in my headset and despite my best efforts to go unnoticed by enemy SAMs, they are tracking me. I push the throttle forward to light the afterburner and begin a maneuver I hope will defeat the radar tracking me and if he shoots, defeat the missile as well. I let the entire war know of my situation, “Lobo 4, Mud 2 bearing 260, Bullseye 080 for 60!” Hopefully someone will kill it before it kills me. This is a high G-force maneuver with a lot of turning and I need to make sure I don’t smack into the side of a mountain. Instead I use the mountain to hide from where I think the SAM is and the warning goes away. I am safe, for now.

We continue to press west with everyone in my flight getting tracked by different SAMs but no aircraft have targeted us. We have been aggressively flying low for almost fifteen minutes and are just 15 miles from the target when we hear two enemy aircraft are headed our way. We pop up to gain a few thousand feet to put our cameras on the target. I am supposed to put all six of my bombs on one missile-launching site and I am frantically searching in the 4×4-inch camera screen to find it in this complex of structures. If I can’t, we will have to start circling the target area to find it, making ourselves an easy target for the enemy and tonight, that almost certainly means death. I am now four miles from dropping, making sure I don’t run into my wingman, when I get another warning of a SAM tracking me. I don’t care. I need to find this damn target and I am struggling. The entire success of the mission rests on finding this tiny missile silo and because we are low, it is hard to see with other structures blocking the view. With fifteen seconds to release, the sweat pouring down my face, I am blinded and my NVGs go white temporarily before quickly recovering. I look to the right and see four mushroom clouds of explosions from the flight of four F-15Es next to us, lighting up the entire sky. Holy shit, that was awesome, but I have no time to enjoy the view.

At ten seconds to release, I think I see the target. Unfortunately, “I think” is not good enough. I am about to consent to 3,000 lbs of explosives coming off my jet. I am about to choose who lives or dies with the red button under my right thumb and I have to be 100% confident before I hit it. Based on the target picture on my lap, the concrete slab under the launcher looks like a T but I can’t see it yet. I start lining my jet up with that object, hoping I will see this confirming feature at the last second as mission success rests on it. At three seconds to release, the concrete T in the camera pod emerges and I hear Lobo 1 and 2 release their weapons. I let out a sigh of relief, continue to refine the steering to the target and hit the red button. I feel the six bombs ripple off my wings and then aggressively maneuver back east. I briefly lift the NVGs and roll up to 90 degrees of bank so I can watch the six, near instantaneous explosions create a fireball where the target once was right below my jet. The adrenaline is pumping now. The mission is a success and I can’t help but smile. This is awesome.

Unlock the adventure of a lifetime as you race through the clouds at Mach 1 and grab your copy of Combat Ready: Lessons Learned in the Journey to Fighter Pilot today!

Captain Taylor Fox grew up in Springfield, Missouri before graduating with a Master’s degree in Business from the University of Missouri. He went on to graduate in the top of his pilot training classes and flew the F-16 for the Air National Guard before transitioning to fly the F-22 in the Air Force Reserves. Having worked in a variety of industries including a venture capital fund, a global marketing agency, a digital news company, a corporate aviation department and starting numerous ventures on his own, Fox has an unusual perspective of the relationship between combat preparation and business. It is a level of experience necessary to relate to most industries.  In addition to the Air Force, he loves traveling, running, and is active in real estate.

Taylor Can be reached at

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