Craig Thorson is unique in that he has two military families. The first military family he belongs to was started by his father, who is a U.S. Navy World War II veteran and continued by his son who currently serves in the Navy. His other family was the airmen who served at the Des Moines Air National Guard Base.
“That unit was different than active duty; it’s like a big family. People don’t come and go. They stay there,” Craig said. “Unlike the Air Force, where everybody plays musical chairs every three years where you get a new assignment and everybody leaves and you never really have a chance to have long-term relationships. Everybody stays for their 20-year retirement. I got four or five guys I flew with whose sons became pilots.”
When the Des Moines Air National Guard Base announced it was discontinuing the F-16 program, it hit Craig hard.
“That was a sad day, I didn’t really expect that it would ever happen,” Craig said. “With the budget cuts and the economy the way it is, it didn’t come as a total shock, but it’s pretty sad.”
What made the departure of the F-16s even more significant for Craig was that he was one of the few Newton natives to actually fly the F-16s.
“I’ve done flybys for the Fourth of July Parade, (when they added) the new part of the airport at the dedication and I flew over a football game when Newton was in the finals,” Craig said.
Craig absolutely loved flying and serving his country, which he did for a 38 combined years in the Iowa Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force, and he described what flying a fighter jet was like.
“It’s not anything at all like the airlines where you go from point A to point B,” Craig said. “It’s a totally awesome experience. In the F-16, they used to call it the ‘Magic Carpet Ride,’ because the canopy rails are very low and you have that bubble canopy, you feel like you’re sitting out on the end of a pencil.”
Craig said while piloting the F-16s, you couldn’t see much due to the seat being titled back and the control stick not being in the traditional position between your legs, but on an adjacent console.
“You can’t see and you feel like you’re on a magic carpet. That thing had so much power,” he said.
While working at the base, he flew multiple planes and took part in a number of missions.
“I flew the F-100, which was the first fighter up there and I flew the A-7 when they transitioned to the A-7,” Craig said. “And then before I retired, for about three years, I flew the F-16. I’ve had the opportunity to make eight non-stop flights where we take off from Des Moines and refuel in the air.
“I’ve been to Japan, I’ve been to England, Germany, Norway, I’ve been lots of places,” he continued. “Just multiple opportunities to spend time overseas and Italy too. Italy was the first big opportunity to deploy in the F-100. It was a great opportunity.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.