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Finishing where it all began: Bubba’s final flight

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, receives the traditional 
“fini flight” ritual from his wife and three children after completing his final flight in the F-15E Strike Eagle, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor retires from the Air Force in June 2017 after more than 18 years as a weapon systems officer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, receives the traditional “fini flight” ritual from his wife and three children after completing his final flight in the F-15E Strike Eagle, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor retires from the Air Force in June 2017 after more than 18 years as a weapon systems officer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, completes his final flight in the F-15E Strike Eagle, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor reached the milestone of flying 3,000 hours in the F-15E earlier this month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, completes his final flight in the F-15E Strike Eagle, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor reached the milestone of flying 3,000 hours in the F-15E earlier this month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor’s, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, signature is etched on a table he constructed for the squadron, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor reached 3,000 flight hours in the F-15E Strike Eagle and both started and ended his career at Seymour Johnson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor’s, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, signature is etched on a table he constructed for the squadron, March 30, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Taylor reached 3,000 flight hours in the F-15E Strike Eagle and both started and ended his career at Seymour Johnson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. --

Many aircrew members say they have unforgettable experiences and memories that forge bonds with their fellow service members.

One weapon systems officer’s story came to a close March 30 after flying the F-15E Strike Eagle for more than 18 years and 1,642 sorties. Lt. Col. Stephen Taylor, 334th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations, flew his final flight in the Strike Eagle.

Lt. Col. Michael J. Shields, 334th FS director of operations, recalls a story a fellow aircrew member told him while sharing an unforgettable combat sortie with “Bubba.”

While in Afghanistan, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller was shot through the hand by a sniper. The platoon was pinned down and couldn’t move. Unable to get coordinates, Bubba received a visual talk-on from the JTAC and worked fast to determine the sniper’s location. Bubba’s efforts resulted in a bomb directly on the sniper’s location. Weeks later, they had the opportunity to meet that JTAC as he was rotating out of Afghanistan, and he’s alive today thanks to Taylor.

Taylor reached the milestone of flying 3,000 hours in the F-15E earlier this month. According to Boeing enterprise, Taylor is only the 34th person on record to reach this landmark.

Taylor recalled his first flight in the aircraft following his “fini flight.”

“As soon as the jet took off, the tower called and said several papers fell out of the bottom of the jet,” he said. “The instructor continued with the mission and after the jet landed, maintenance crews discovered that a maintenance checklist was placed inside the gear door. When we raised the gear, the checklist fell out and papers scattered across the runway.”

Even on his last sortie, Taylor looked up inside the nose gear doors to make sure there weren’t any items that may have accidently been left behind.

Taylor’s career started at the 334th Fighter Squadron in 1999. He then began his combat mission ready status at the 492nd Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. He then went to the 90th FS at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, then proceeded to the 389th FS at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, before completing his journey back where it all began at the 334th FS.

Upon landing his final flight, Taylor received the traditional fini flight rituals. Family and friends welcomed him on the ramp as he exited the Strike Eagle for the final time. Taylor was sprayed with water in celebration along with hugs and congratulatory handshakes.

Amongst the welcoming crowd were Taylor’s wife, Lt. Col. Laura Taylor, a 77th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, and their three children.

Taylor completed two combat deployments during his career. His experiences allowed him to pass on his knowledge to the student pilots and student weapon system officers in the basic training course, said Shields.

“Bubba is going to leave a tremendous gap in the instructor cadre here, that’s going to be impossible to fill based on his experience, his intellect and the way that he instructs,” added Shields. “He also strengthens the leadership involved with developing the students because we know we’re accountable to ‘Bubba.’”

One of the pilots who has flown under Taylor’s instruction, reflects on his time flying in the F-15E Strike Eagle with the experienced WSO.

“You learn a lot, you laugh a lot and then you learn some more,” said 1st Lt. Chris McGuirk, a 334th FS student pilot. “You definitely feel better. You know more about stuff you can’t read about or study on. It’s actual experience.”

Taylor’s wife describes his strong desire to pass on his knowledge to the leaders and F-15E aircrew of the future.

“I think he feels a very strong obligation to making sure that the people coming behind him know everything that he knows,” said Taylor’s wife. “Maybe it will save their life one day.”

Not only does he pass on his knowledge to others, Taylor’s caring personality is reflected in his dedication to improving the squadron atmosphere and morale, said members of the 334th FS.

Taylor enjoys carpentry. He built a computer table, shelving units and various furniture used in the 334th FS recreation area and other office spaces.

“He puts a lot of his own time into the squadron,” said Shields.

Taylor’s caring personality is reflected in his call sign “Bubba” which translates to “brother” said Taylor’s wife.

Taylor retires June 2017. He will be greatly missed at the 334th FS, said Shields.

“Bubba is about the mission, everything he does whether the mission is his family, the F-15E Strike Eagle, or the 334th Fightin’ Eagles, it’s what he’s about,” said Shields.