Gen. Keys logs final flight

  • Published
  • By Mr. David Hopper
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs
Air Force's current longest serving commissioned officer slipped the surly bonds of earth for the final time as an active-duty pilot here Sept. 28.

And, Gen. Ronald E. Keys, commander of Air Combat Command, flew for the last time with style -- at the controls of an F-4 Phantom II and going vertical.

The general first flew the Phantom in 1968, and flew combat missions out of Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam as a member of the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron.

Gen. Keys, who turns the reins of ACC to Gen. John D.W. Corley with a change of command Tuesday, last flew a Phantom in 1979, while he was an instructor at the Air Force Fighter Weapons School in Nevada.

After pre-flight preparation, the general said it wouldn't take long to refamiliarize himself with the controls.

"A lot of my history is in that plane," he said. It'll all come back."

The event, the final or "fini" flight is part of a time-honored tradition that traces its roots to Vietnam when pilots in that war completed their final combat mission.

Then, as now, a pilot's landing included a dousing in water and a celebratory bottle of champagne.

This time, however, the event marked a different kind of ending and, although he was surrounded by fellow Airmen and the aircraft that brought him home safely through more than 2,100 hours, including 300 combat hours, the traditional "wet down" soaking came from his three children and grandchildren, and with his wife, Valerie, watching.

Looking back on his flying days with the Phantom, Gen. Keys said flying one last time in a "great airplane" like the F-4 was "like a bookend to my career."

And after 40 years in the Air Force, the fini flight was both a nostalgic and poignant moment for the longest serving officer in the service, but, he said, not with any regret.

"I gave everything that I could give and it's now time for me to move on," General Keys said. "The Air Force will be in great hands."

General Keys retires Nov.