When 1st Lt. Joseph Campbell was born in Goldsboro to a military pilot at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, little did his family know that he’d return 25 years later to become a pilot himself.
Campbell just completed a yearlong training program to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle. He will report to his permanent duty station at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, in a couple of weeks.
He was born in Goldsboro while his father, retired Maj. Robert Campbell, was flying the KC-10 Extender. But his family moved when he was just 6 weeks old. His father flew the KC-10 for six years, then Northrop T-38 Talons in Mississippi for three years as a trainer, then Gulfstream aircraft in Washington, D.C., for four years ferrying dignitaries.
“My dad loved flying,” Campbell said. “But he didn’t tell me any stories of his flying. I think he would have liked to, but he never wanted to push that on me or my brother.”
Although Campbell grew up around the Air Force and flying, his father never took him flying. Campbell was undecided on what he wanted to be when he grew up — until he saw the Air Force Thunderbirds fly.
“My dad went to the Air Force Academy, and when I was in sixth grade, my cousin graduated from the Academy,” Campbell said. “So my dad figured that was a good time to take us out to his alma mater. At graduation, the Thunderbirds flew over, and then I wanted to fly fighters. I just wanted to do whatever it took to be able to be a pilot. I was about 13 or 14, pretty young.”
When he told his father he wanted to be a military jet pilot, his father asked him if he was sure about his career choice.
“He actually discouraged it at first,” Campbell said. “He just wanted to see if I actually wanted to do it for myself.”
After high school, Campbell was off to the Academy for four years, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
He said would-be pilots are given their plane based on class ranking, and he was at the top of his class.
From the Academy, Campbell went to pilot training in Wichita Falls, Texas, for two years. His next stop was Seymour Johnson AFB for basic F-15E training. When he gets to his next base in Idaho, he will go through another three months of training and then will be deployable.
“Learning to fly the F-15 has been awesome,” Campbell said. “It’s a great jet to fly.”
The F-15E is a two-seater with a pilot and weapon systems officer.
“The first time we took the jet up by ourselves, it was exhilarating,” Campbell said. “It’s a big old jet with a lot of power.”
He said one of the challenging aspects of flying the F-15E is that it’s one of the only jets that can self-escort its way into a combat area, drop bombs and self-escort its way out.
“So combining all the missions in a multi-role fighter gets tricky when you’re doing a lot of different things at once,” Campbell said.
He said facing these challenges is fun for him.
“You just think this is just awesome that I get paid to do this for a living,” Campbell said.
He said when he first started training in the F-15, it was just the basics of flying the jet.
“Then you go one versus one air-to-air, where they put two jets a mile apart from each other and one’s going to try to defend himself and the other’s going to try to simulate shooting them down,” Campbell said. “Then they take you and do two versus one, putting you and another jet 100 miles apart. So you learn the air-to-air side.
“Then you learn the air-to-ground side. How are you going to find the targets? How are you going to drop the bombs? How are you going to make sure you’re navigating to the right area, avoiding threats and whatnot? Then you kind of take everything and put it all together.”
Campbell said flying the F-15E is exciting, but also a challenge that requires 100 percent mental focus. There’s no room for other thoughts or distractions. It’s all about what he’s doing in that second.
There’s a good chance Campbell could be back at Seymour Johnson AFB in the future, either helping train new F-15E pilots or flying missions with the fighter squadron.
Then again, he might want to try a different plane in the future, maybe the F-35 Lightning II or another new jet.
“I have not been back here since I was 6 weeks old, but I do feel like I’m home when I’m back here in Goldsboro,” Campbell said.