Twin brothers in pilot training -- as instructor and student

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cassidy Fisher
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Twin brothers John and David Russo took to the skies on Feb. 17 to experience something only a few people in their lifetimes could ever experience -- flying in formation in a military aircraft against your sibling. 

Both captains in the U.S. Air Force, the Russo brothers are stationed at Vance Air Force Base, but with contrasting jobs. Capt. John Russo is a T-6A Texan II instructor pilot. Capt. David Russo is a student pilot in the same aircraft going through undergraduate pilot training.

As soon as David knew he was approaching his formation solo, the two devised a plan where John would be in the accompanying plane with a fellow instructor, Capt. Brendan Caldwell, and David would be alone in his aircraft.

Formation flying is when there are two or more aircrafts flying relatively close to one another.

“Going into the sortie I treated it like any student sortie,” John said. “After taking off and fully realizing that the other aircraft was being flown by my brother, I felt a lot of pride in sharing the experience with him.” 

“I had some nerves from the brief through the takeoff, but as soon as I heard John’s voice on the radio, I relaxed,” David said. “There’s no one I trust more flying within 10 feet of my aircraft than my twin brother.” 

The Russo brothers are as tight as brothers can be. Growing up in California all the way through college, they did everything together. When they were younger, their mom dressed them the same and they were never bothered when people mixed them up.

Now they are once again dressing alike, in flight suits, and laugh when people get them mixed up.

The brothers played the same sports growing up, hung out with the same friends, were roommates in college and shared the same dream of becoming pilots. 

The first time they were separated since birth was after graduating from California State University, Fresno, when they commissioned into the Air Force. John went to Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, for pilot training. David went to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for combat-systems officer training.

“It was hard,” said David. “It was kind of like losing your best friend. We both got married and had to learn to have two best friends.”

“We were still only about six hours away from each other, so we got together almost every weekend,” John said. 

John completing pilot training and headed to Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker.

“I absolutely loved it,” John said. “I went on six deployments, so it was a rough ops tempo, but I got super good experiences from that.”

After finishing combat systems training, David was assigned to be a Boeing E-3 Sentry navigator at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. 

“I was an E-3 navigator for six and half years at Tinker,” said David. “My opportunity to become a pilot was kind of closing when I was in ROTC. My girlfriend at the time, my wife now, and I decided the shorter six-year commitment as a navigator was the route to go.”

He progressed to become an instructor, then an evaluator, and finally felt he had hit the ceiling as a navigator. “I was ready for something new. I applied for pilot training and was accepted,” David said. 

John and his wife had moved to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, to be an instructor pilot. When that assignment was up, the opportunity to move to Vance came up.

About that time, David got the chance to become a student pilot at Vance. “It just so happened that our career paths overlaid at the perfect time,” John said. 

Fast-forward to today and the Russo brothers are reunited and achieving their lifelong dreams of being pilots. 

John said he talks up the KC-135 mission to David, trying to convince him to go for it once he completes student pilot training.

David is giving it serious thought. “I want to fly something heavy and slow. More towards the crew concept and tankers.

“I’d like to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” he said.