Maverick for a day

Chuck Finley finds dream job in KC-135

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Whether you love your job or hate it, there’s a good chance it’s not the job you dreamed about when you were 10.
Many of us have a "dream job," something we always wanted to do, a path not taken, for a myriad of reasons.

Wouldn’t it be a kick, just for a day, to experience that job? The team here at Blount Today thought so. In July, we shared Marty Millsaps’ dream job as he followed the Smokies in his dream of being a professional baseball player. Last month, David Dudley got to conduct the Orchestra at Maryville College.

Today, Chuck Finley takes to the air to get a taste of his dream job of being a fighter pilot.

We will continue our quest to make your dreams come true. Let us know what YOUR dream job is. Is it something that Blount Today can make happen for you, for a day, and then share with our readers? Let us know. Email or call Lance Coleman at or 865-981-9106. We will take a look at the responses and see if they are within our capabilities.

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

By the time the hit 1980s movie "Top Gun" was released, Chuck Finley knew he would never wear a flight suit or have a cool call sign like the movie’s Maverick, Goose, Hollywood or Iceman.

For one day, however, Finley got to experience just a little bit of what it means to be a military pilot. He "suited up" for the experience, trading his button-down shirt and tie that is is "uniform" as assistant manager at Aubrey’s restaurant for a flight suit.

It suited him, too. One of his new friends with the 134th Air Refueling Wing said Finley, as he posed for pictures, quickly adopted that cocky attitude of a combat pilot.

The flight was a media flight aboard a KC-135. Master Sgt. Jeff Dyer gave Finley a good-natured hard time.

"It’ll be a week before he’ll take that flight suit off," Dyer said.

"It exceeded my expectations by far," Finley said, with a huge grin on his face.

The media orientation flight on Nov. 7 took Finley with several reporters and photographers over Nashville, north of Memphis, over Arkansas, south along the Mississippi River over New Orleans, east over Birmingham and then home to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard base. Along the way they refueled a B-52 bomber.

"We’re basically following the Mississippi River to New Orleans, that’s the track," Dyer said.

The 32-year-old Finley got to sit in a jump seat situated between the pilot and co-pilot for more than half of the flight. The complexity of the aircraft wasn’t lost on him.

"That’s just a whole lot of fun," he said. "It looks terribly complicated. All the dials. There are 40 gauges, 10 for each engine," Finley said during the flight. "They talk a lot about chop. I’m sure that’s turbulence."

Stepping out of the cockpit, Finley said, "That was unbelievable. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that."

Finley said he really enjoyed just listening to the crew communicating with each other and with ground control.

"I was there from take-off all the way to when we met up with the bomber," he said.

"After (the pilot) got through with pre-flight and take-off and got it to altitude, he explained everything that was going on," he said. "Getting able to talk over the mic was like being part of the flight team. I felt like I learned a little of what they do and how they do it."

Finley was born and raised in Blount County and graduated William Blount High School in 1993. He worked at restaurants and a factory job before he started waiting tables at Aubrey’s in Maryville about four and a half years ago. He eventually worked his way into an assistant manager’s position.

"Aubrey’s is excellent. I’ve felt at home there. I absolutely love working there," he said. "This is my dream job, definitely, but I love restaurant work. I don’t think I’ve missed a day of work."

In the restaurant business, each day is different, he said. "There’s always something that needs your attention. There are always three or four things going on. Everyday is fresh and new, new challenges and rewards everyday," he said.

Finley said he always wanted to be a military pilot, but in middle school he put that dream aside.

"In seventh grade, I got glasses and pretty much realized I would be a military pilot. My brother and I used to watch Blacksheep Squadron," he said. "That’s what really made me want to do it."

By the time the movie "Top Gun" glamorized Navy fighter pilots, Finley had accepted his fate.

"I knew I’d never be a combat pilot. You watched ‘Top Gun,’ they’re playing with million dollar machines," Finley said of the movie.

On his Dream Job flight, Finley was on board as the KC-135 met up with a B-52 bomber. Finley went to the back of the plane to watch Dyer refuel the aircraft. There were two observation platforms on either side of the Dyer’s platform, and Dyerwas on his belly as he worked the refueling controls to hook up with the other aircraft mid-air. The windows Finley and Dyer looked out of gave them about a 180-degree view from the bottom back of the plane.

"This is what I call an office with a view," Dyer said. "It’s the only laying down job in the Air Force."

It wasn’t Finley first time in an aircraft. About 12 years ago, he went up with a private pilot who let him take the controls.
"For about 10 or 15 minutes, I got to fly a two-seater, until we hit turbulence," he said.

Finley said he would love to get his pilot’s license. "It was a thrill," he said. "If I had more time, it would be a lot of fun, maybe one day."

Finley said his girlfriend was excited for him and his mother didn’t seem as worried as he thought she would be.

"When my mom found out, I thought she would freak out," he said. "She took it well, surprisingly. She’s a mom. My brother was just envious."

The crew for the flight included pilot Lt. Col. Marvin Lee Hartley, co-pilot Maj. Gary D. Smith, Capt. Tommy B. Harrell, Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Dyer and Tech Sgt. Bryan G. Rollins.

Dyer talked about the new engines and new avionics on the KC-135. The engine is more powerful, yet more efficient and also quieter. Often people on the ground would tell personnel at McGee Tyson Air National Guard base that the old aircraft engines appeared to be on fire because they emitted so much smoke and were so loud.

"The higher efficiency engines provide 20 percent more thrust with 15 percent less fuel," he said. "Not only is it more efficient, it’s less polluting in noise and hydrocarbons."

The new avionics allow the aircraft to stay in contact anywhere in the world. "We can be contacted via satellite phone when we’re over the Pacific," he said. Previously, they communicated via radio.

The base has nine of the new aircraft and is supposed to have a total of 12 by 2012. The aircraft have a total capacity of 33,000 gallons of fuel.

"Because of the efficiency of the engine, we can provide more for bombers because we use less ourselves."

The new more efficient engines allow them to fly about 20 percent further. "If we didn’t have to offload (fuel), this plane can go more than halfway around the world non-stop to Taiwan or the Mediterranean."

After the flight, the pilot, Hartley, said he is living his dream job. "I remember going to air shows at 6. Ever since then I’ve wanted to fly."

For Finley, it was off to work -- shirt and tie in hand. For an afternoon, however, he was Maverick.

Photos by Darrell Watkins

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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