NASA People

Center Snapshot: Pete Marty
Pete Marty. Image above: Pete Marty flew fighter planes for 24 of his 26 years in the Air Force and saw some beautiful country from the air. Now he sees it from the ground and afoot. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Walk into Pete Marty's office and there's no question about his life before NASA Langley.

There are pictures of F-15s on every wall, and there's an eagle – it's the F-15 Eagle, after all – across from his desk. A statue of an eagle is on the shelf to Marty's right, near the pictures of daughters Carrie and Kathryn, and if there is any doubt about his pedigree, it's erased by the wooden biplane.

The 27th Fighter Squadron, part of the 1st Fighter Group at Langley Air Force Base, once flew biplanes, you know.

"My daughter made it in shop class in elementary school," said Marty, who oversees Tessada and Associates' CLASIC contract as the Senior Program Manager.

Once Marty went to work every day feeling the need for speed, and even now – 12 years after he retired from the Air Force – he'll occasionally find himself looking up and grading the patterns fighter pilots are making over Langley.

"In my 26 years in the Air Force, I flew all but two of them," Marty said.

He no longer flies, in part because the airplanes available in his price range don't offer "pulling G's" in the guide in the glove compartment of the cockpit. Instead, he takes his recreation at the opposite end of the speed spectrum.

"Hiking and biking," Marty said of his avocations, then added, "not very fast or very far."

Most of that hiking and biking is done around Blacksburg, an area he discovered – and adopted during football season -- when his daughters were attending Virginia Tech. Marty did add a trip to Grand Teton National Park a year ago.

"For years, I flew over this country and saw how beautiful it was," Marty said. "Now I get a different perspective, from the ground, and it is beautiful."

He also spends time with the 1st Fighter Wing Association, an alumni group in which Marty can be "Pistola" – his Air Force call sign, from "Pistol Pete," get it? – at meetings and reunions.

"I came to the group in '82, when I was helping put together an F-15 exhibit in Selfridge (Mich.)," Marty said. "It was started by guys who had flown P-38s over North Africa, including four Army Air Corps aces. Two of them are still with the association today.

"They really were the greatest generation."

A reunion trophy acknowledges the 1st Fighter Wing aircraft legacy: "Nieuports to Raptors."

The motivation to fly was an easy one, even beyond the adrenaline high. "There is immediate feedback," said Marty, who had more than 3,000 hours in aircraft including the T-29, T-37, T-38, F-4 and F-15. He also had 120 combat missions in Vietnam and over Iraq.

"You know if you did something well or if you did something poorly.

"And you are doing something few people get to do."

But he was becoming weaned off the "high" of flying as he wound down his Air Force career. His final job was commanding the 1st Operations Group, 1st Fighter Wing at Langley. That put him in charge of planning, organization and direction, and had him in close proximity to those who maintain the aircraft.

"You learn that the pilots are the tip of the sword, but that there are a lot of people who make up the sword," he said, then extended the analogy to his job at Langley. "Here, the engineers are the tip of the sword, and we have a lot of people making up the sword in support of the engineers."

Eventually Marty will retire – to near Blacksburg for hiking and biking, he said – but you can bet he'll take an occasional look at a plane overhead, just to grade a pattern. And he'll be "Pistola" again at an occasional reunion.

"You get paid for having fun," he said of flying an Air Force fighter. "I would have paid to fly."