I Get Paid For This

Flying a fuel station

Lt. Col. Brian Sikkema flies air-to-air refuelling missions all over the world in the KC-135 Stratotanker

Brian Sikkema
Brian Sikkema and the B-25 he's just been type rated to fly

How did you get into flying?

Flying is something I’ve always been interested in. My mum worked for a dentist who was also a pilot.

He took me up when I was eight years old and I was hooked from that very first flight. As soon as I got my driver’s licence, the first place I visited was the local airfield, asking about flying lessons. At the age of 19 I obtained my PPL.

Tell us about your job?

I’m an Evaluator Pilot in the United States Air Force (USAF). Currently based at Fairchild Air Force Base, I fly the KC-135 Stratotanker. Since the K-135’s main goal is air-to-air refuelling, that’s what we do in most of our missions and training flights.

A boom operator in the back of the aircraft controls the refuelling boom, which connects to a receptacle on the aircraft that’s being refuelled. Apart from aerial refuelling, we also occasionally move cargo and carry out aeronautical evacuations.

Normally I get to fly once or twice a week, but on a mission, it’s more. We do CORONET missions all over the world, providing our fighter jets that need to go long distances with fuel.

In my role as Functional Check Flight pilot, I also fly the KC-135 after heavy maintenance, checking that all repairs have gone well and that it’s safe to fly.

As an Evaluator Pilot, you need to have a willingness to learn and get better at what you do. Although I’ve been doing this for a long time, I still make mistakes… on every flight. Learning from these mistakes is the only way to improve, which is why I always ask the guys I’m flying with to call me out on any errors. Also essential is a sound judgement. People lacking these skills will struggle to do this job.

I get to do a lot of check rides with younger pilots, making sure the Air Force standards are upheld. Actually, most of my flights involve some kind of instructing. I love that: imparting knowledge is, hands down, the most rewarding part of my job. Every single day, I get to do things that I feel have an impact.

Refuelling KC135
Brian's day job: flying a KC-135 Stratotanker on refuelling missions

What training did you have?

When joining the USAF, I did a year of Specialised Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base. Then I did a course on the KC-135 and obtained this qualification in November 2008.

Afterwards I became an Aircraft Commander, Instructor, Evaluator, and in 2018 a Functional Check Ride Pilot.

Additionally, each Air Force base you’re stationed offers a few weeks of training to get you fully mission qualified. It truly is lifelong learning!

What’s been your favourite flight?

I can’t choose… I loved having the opportunity to give my family their first aircraft ride. In 2005, I rented a Cessna 172 and took up my wife and oldest son. However, last summer I got checked out in a B-25, which belongs to the nearby Historic Flight Foundation museum. Flying that WWII bomber was one of the highlights of my flying career and getting the rating was like a dream come true.

And your favourite airfield?

Kangerlussuaq Airport in Greenland. I’ve flown all over the world and this airport sticks out because of how challenging it is. It’s tucked into a fjord valley, you literally fly in one way and out the other.

I’ve flown there in the summer of 2013, which was gorgeous, and in the winter of 2014, which was extremely challenging because of bad weather conditions. In fact, only the centre of the runway was cleared from snow. Landing there safely gave me a lot of job satisfaction.

Do you get to fly much outside of work?

Yes, I’m a Civil Air Patrol member and fly its cadets several times a month. It’s so rewarding to see the grin develop on their face when the Cessna 182 takes off. Both my sons are members and last summer, I got to give my youngest son his orientation flight!

What’s your most valuable career advice?

Bloom where you’re planted. In other words: find satisfaction on the career path you’re on, even if it’s different from what you previously planned or imagined.

Brian Sikkema KC135
Flying the KC-135

Flying CV

Next to his USAF career, Evaluator Pilot Lt. Col. Brian Sikkema takes up cadets in Civil Air Patrol orientation flights.

Started current job 2018
Now flying KC-135 Stratotanker
Favourite aircraft B-25 Mitchell Bomber. ‘It’s just such a cool piece of history.’
Hours at job start Approx. 3,000
Hours now Approx. 4,000
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