From a Start at FCI, A Career Takes Flight

Jeff O’Dell flying an F-15E in the Air Force, left, and in a Cirrus with his first flight instructor, Bryan Smith, right.

Jeff O’Dell’s flying career is one that most pilots would envy. Fresh from 12 years jockeying a supersonic fighter, he’s transitioning to big jets for Federal Express.

He stopped recently at Dominion Aviation to revisit the field where his career began in a humble Cessna 152 – and go for a spin in a Cirrus SR22 with his original flight instructor, Bryan Smith.

O’Dell’s primary training was in the old Dominion Flight school, which was sold in 2007. The new Dominion Flight School, opened in 2015, flies a Cirrus fleet.

O’Dell, 35, grew up in Midlothian, learned to fly in high school and enrolled in ROTC at Virginia Tech. In the Air Force, he flew the T-38C, then logged the bulk of his 2,095 military hours in the F-15E Strike Eagle. He flew 1,349 sorties, including combat in Afghanistan, and served as a check airman, evaluating other pilots.

He also met his wife, Sarah, who’s also a fighter pilot. They were able to serve in the same squadron for 12 years. She left the Air Force a few months ahead of him, shortly after their first child’s birth. Both left with the rank of Major.

After starting the job with FedEx, O’Dell and his wife plan to move to Louisville, Kentucky, to be close to family.

Articulate and enthusiastic, O’Dell has great experiences to share. “The F-15E,” he said “will fly at 50,000 feet or it will fly at 100 feet. It can pull 9 G’s. We remind trainees the one thing it won’t do is fly below 150 knots.”

Its electronics automatically retrim when munitions are loosed and show inside the pilot’s helmet which forces are friendly and which are not.

“Our little secret is that these airplanes are really easy to just fly from point to point,” O’Dell confided. “The difficult part is using them as a weapon system with numerous other aircraft, and that’s the part that requires constant training.”

Literally and figuratively, he’s covered a lot of ground fast since that first solo in a 152 in Dominion Aviation’s flight school.

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