F-35 fighter jet pilot training at MacDill draws inspiration from sister

What’s it like to go from zero to 1,200 miles an hour in a F-35 fighter jet? Ask Captain Quinn Labowitch.

"The first time I took off in the F-35, I thought I was strapped to a rocket," says Labowitch. "The takeoff was incredible."

The Minnesota native is an instructor with the 58th Fighter Squadron based at Eglin Air Force Base in Destin. For the past two weeks, they’ve been flying out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the weather is more favorable. 

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MacDill was a bomber training base in World War II, but in later years many fighter planes flew from the long runways at the Tampa military base. They included F-84 Thunder Jets in the early 1960s. 

By 1963, F-4 Phantoms arrived and remained through the early 1980s. But few, if any, of those fliers were influenced by an older pilot the way Labowitch was by his sister. 

"My sister is a huge influence. She’s a fighter pilot. She’s nine years older than me, and so getting to see her go through all this when I was young was extremely influential for me," said Labowitch. 

His sister, Tess, flew F-16 fighters until she retired from the Air Force. Labowitch says her influence allowed him to live his dream. 

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"I couldn’t imagine doing a different job," he says. "It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve wanted to do it ever since I was a little kid. Now, I get to live my dream every day."

Out over the gulf, Labowitch teaches his students dogfighting maneuvers. He jokes that he’s happy he doesn’t have to go against his sister, who was an athlete at the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

"She’s definitely tougher than me," he laughs. "She can definitely still beat me up, so I try not to mess with her as much as possible." 

For Labowitch, it’s a deep connection that’s taken him high in the skies, inspired by an older fighter pilot who just happens to be his sister. 

Tess no longer flies fighter jets, but she’s the mother of four children. "That may be her biggest challenge yet," smiles Labowitch.