By Paul Hammer, Nebraska Examiner —
LINCOLN — Loren Lippincott was helping his father clear some land with a bulldozer out in the Sandhills when suddenly, a F-4 Phantom jet roared overhead.
They waved to get the pilot’s attention, and the pilot, likely based out of Lincoln, obliged, cutting a tight turn and performing an aerial roll overhead, before blasting off over the horizon.
“He was so low we could see his helmet,” Lippincott said. “I said, ‘That is what I want to do.’”
The native of a Central City farm realized his dream and then some.
Lippincott joined the Air Force after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He passed the rigorous exams and training required of a fighter pilot and became a Top Gun — a real Top Gun for his squadron out of Germany, with the call name, “Lips.”
“I will never forget the feeling I had when strapping into the single seat F-16 for my first solo flight in a $20 million jet,” Lippincott said. “I thought, ‘The government of the U.S.A. is trusting me with this jet. Do it right.’”
Now 67, “Lips” recently saw the new movie, “Top Gun: Maverick.” He said it was well done, depicting many of the sensational training maneuvers required of fighter pilots as they work to achieve the highest scores, and Top Gun status, in skills such as dogfighting and bombing accuracy.
But Hollywood strayed from real life, Lippincott said, in depicting rivalries, clashes of ego and fights between the elite fighter pilots — conflicts that took a larger role in the original Top Gun film in 1986.
“There is no combative camaraderie, there is harmony in camaraderie,” he said. “You are fighting together as brothers.”
“It’s one for all and all for one,” said Lippincott, who has returned to the family farm north of Central City after retiring as a pilot for Delta Airlines.
He added that while the close-contact dogfights depicted in “Top Gun: Maverick” do happen, much aerial combat these days is done at long range, up to 30 miles away, with radar-guided missiles.
How do you become a real Top Gun?
It takes perseverance, tenacity, discipline and some restraint, he said.
“Do not give up … do not listen to naysayers. Go after it,” he said.
For Lippincott, it started with his parents, Dick and Rosalie Lippincott, who decided later in life to learn how to fly.
He was 9 years old when his dad, who hadn’t yet earned his pilot’s license, took him on a “taxi” ride around the Central City airport.
Eventually, Lippincott’s father was teaching his son how to fly a Cessna 182 the family purchased along with the local doctor.
The family regularly took trips to area air shows. An airstrip was established on an alfalfa field at the home place. By age 14, he was skydiving out of the Cessna with an older brother, Randy, who went on to become a Green Beret, as well as a skydiving instructor.
At UNL, Lippincott studied broadcasting and worked his way through college by working at Lincoln radio and TV stations. He also worked for then-Secretary of State Allen Beermann and hawked snacks during NU football games.
He didn’t think he could qualify as a pilot, believing that you needed to be a math “genius.”
But Lippincott eventually learned that wasn’t quite the case, and by 1980, he took the pilot’s test amid a push by the Air Force for more pilots. He said he passed, in part, because he already knew how to fly..
To become a military pilot, you must be an officer and must pass 50 weeks of training that Lippincott described as “grueling” and “drinking from a fire hose.” Only 39 pilots in his class of 63 graduated.
After qualifying over four months on a T-6 Texas training plane, he said he advanced to a two-seater supersonic jet, a T-38.
After training, he became an instructor pilot at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma before joining a fighter pilot squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He underwent a year of training, on T-38s and F-16s, to learn basic bombing and fighter maneuvers, before joining his squadron.
Lippincott said you learn how to hook up with a refueling tanker at 25,000 feet, drop bombs at various steep and shallow angles, and fire the 20 millimeter guns on an F-16, which spit out 100 rounds a second.
There’s a lot of extra training, he said, on how to drop and activate atomic bombs. One maneuver involves “slinging” an atomic bomb three to four miles away when it’s released, Lippincott said, to give your jet more distance to escape the blast zone.
Another skill was dealing with the extreme gravity forces in a supersonic jet fighter. So-called G-forces can reach 9Gs in a jet, compared to 3G or 4G on a roller-coaster ride, Lippincott said, which makes your head and helmet feel like they weigh 135 pounds instead of 15.
“After an hour of dogfighting, your flight suit is sweaty and stinky, and you are physically tired,” he said. The new Top Gun movie depicts pilots grunting and groaning, Lippincott said, to increase their blood pressure.
“It keeps you from passing out. Obviously important,” he said.
Fighter pilots, as the movie showed, also wear “G-suits” which, when inflated, compress the legs and lower torso to keep blood from pooling there. That diverts the blood flow to the head, torso and eyes, to avoid unconsciousness or losing your vision, Lippincott said.
For 20 months, he was the “Top Gun” of his 24-plane fighter jet unit at Ramstein, meaning he was the best in dogfighting and in accuracy of test bomb runs.
He left the Air Force in 1990 as a captain, seizing an opportunity for better pay and family life as a pilot for Delta, based out of Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta.
Lippincott returned to the family farm after retiring from Delta two years ago, and is now a candidate for State Legislature.
He advanced from the May primary and will face Michael Reimers of Central City in the November election to replace State Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, who was term-limited.
Just as in becoming an elite fighter pilot, there’s a lot to learn as a politician, he said.
The Nebraska tax system, Lippincott said, “makes the wiring diagram of an F-16 look easy.”
Overall, he said he misses flying the fast jets. He expects the new Top Gun movie to inspire others, as he was inspired, to pursue a career as a military pilot.
What’s his advice for aspiring Top Guns?
“Just keep your nose to the grindstone and work to be your best, and you will be your best,” Lippincott said.