Gossner brothers take flight over Luke AFB

Many years ago, in Peachtree, Georgia, two brothers dreamed about following in their family’s footsteps — to soar through the skies, faster than falcons and to serve their country, as their father had done in the U.S. Air Force.

Today, that dream is a reality for both U.S. Air Force Capt. Sean “Echo” Gossner, 63rd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II instructor pilot, and younger brother 1st Lt. Nicholas “Trek” Gossner, 308th FS F-35A student pilot, who both serve at Luke Air Force Base, which sits just 24 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Sean “Echo” Gossner, 63rd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II instructor pilot (left), and his brother 1st Lt. Nicholas “Trek” Gossner, 308th FS F-35A student pilot (right), step out to the flight line Jan. 12, 2022, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

“Before he had us [my brothers and I], my dad was in the Air Force flying the C-130 Hercules and is a Delta pilot today,” said Sean. “Growing up, we already had that background of being [connected to] the Air Force, and it was always in our minds. I was looking for something that was a little different and unique.”

With about 13,000 flight hours in various aircraft under his belt, Sean has long since earned his wings and is now an instructor.

“It takes a long time to become an instructor pilot in the Air Force,” said Sean. “The first two years was just learning to become a pilot, and then transitioning from a winged aviator to flying the F-15E Strike Eagle, which took about nine months to learn. When I got to my first operational unit in Idaho, I spent about two and a half years there and left as a four-ship flight lead. It was only when I moved to Luke Air Force Base three and a half years ago that I became an instructor pilot. [It was] about six years total from the [beginning] to where I am now.”

On the other hand, Nicholas has just begun his path in the Air Force as a fighter pilot.

“[Our] dad flew C-130s back in the day, and it seemed like a really cool job,” he said. “[Our] older brother Zach, who flies C-130s in the Montana National Guard, really liked planes and was only two years older than me, so he and I were very close. It was our family’s collective love of flying that really drove us to be pilots for most of our lives. We would deviate now and again, but we would always come back to flying. Then Sean became a pilot, which drove that desire even more.”

Despite sharing their career field, it was unlikely that they would have the opportunity to fly at the same time, let alone during the same mission. Regardless, that’s what happened on a cool, sunny day in January at Luke AFB.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Nicholas “Trek” Gossner, 308th Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II student pilot, inspects his aircraft before a flight Jan. 12, 2022, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The flight was his first with his older brother, Capt. Sean “Echo” Gossner, a 63rd FS F-35A instructor pilot.

“It was a fun flight,” said Nicholas. “We wanted to fly together for a long time, but due to (Sean) being in weapons school, he couldn’t get away to come fly before now. We flew a strike mission, where we have pre-planned or dynamic targets that we are given when we are in the air. We went out to face a [mock] air threat, surface-to-air threats and fought our way in to strike the targets and fight our way back out.”

After mission completion, the flight ended with additional training.

“It went pretty well, and then at the end we did a Basic Fighter Maneuver set, which [essentially is] dogfighting,” said Nicholas. “I lost, which was to be expected, but it went better than I thought it would, so I was happy to learn from the loss.”

As an instructor, Sean was particularly impressed. “I’m really proud of [Nicholas]; it’s been exciting to see his journey,” said Sean. “He’s about six years younger than me, so it’s been cool to see him come up through Reserve Officer Training Corps, pilot training, and then studying here at Luke AFB to fly the F-35. I have not had a direct hand in his training up until our flight, but I was able to take two F-35s cross-country for a pilot training outreach at the same time he was selected to fly the F-35, so I knew I would be there for that. It was really special.”

The two brothers-in-arms look forward to carrying on their family’s tradition and legacy together at Luke AFB.

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