Pilots take brotherhood to new heights

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Sprunk
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

Growing up, they sat outside their father’s job watching him fly, dreaming of doing the same one day. The older brother joined the Air Force and earned his wings and his little brother followed close in his footsteps. When the older brother was assigned the A-10C Thunderbolt II, his little brother jumped in his shoes, chasing the same experience. Once he was stationed at Moody Air Force Base, his little brother followed, bringing them the closest they’d been since childhood.

For the first time, his little brother was no longer following in his shadow, but on his wing, soaring through the sky right by his side. They were not only brothers, they were partners, wingmen.

Maj. Matthew Shelly, 23d Wing director of inspections and a pilot with the 74th Fighter Squadron, and his little brother, Capt. Christopher Shelly, 76th Fighter Squadron chief of standards and evaluations, flew in formation together for the first time, April 8, 2017, over Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

“Flying with my little brother was super cool,” said Matt. “It was like when were kids and would go out on adventures on our bikes armed with sling-shots and water guns to fight imaginary bad guys in the woods.

“Only this time, we were riding 40,000 pound A-10s and armed with BDU-33 bombs and 30 mm rounds to shoot imaginary bad guys on the bombing range.”

With a father who was an avid pilot for Boeing Company, the Shelly brothers learned to fly at a young age and both became civilian private pilots in high school.

After being involved in Air Force ROTC, Matt began his career as a pilot in the Air Force. Witnessing Matt’s new lifestyle, Chris soon decided he wanted to be a part of it.

“I had always thought about joining the military as a pilot,” said Chris. “But, the moment I knew I really wanted to pursue it was when I attended Matt’s drop night and saw that he was assigned the A-10. I saw the camaraderie that all of the pilots had and I decided that was what I wanted to do.”

With his dream in sight, he turned to his older brother for advice. Matt knew that his little brother wanted to be in the cockpit of the world famous “hawg,” so he advised him to join the Air Force Reserve. By taking that route, he was able to decide for himself what unit he wanted to be a part of, what aircraft to fly, and where he wanted to live.

“I would be lying if I said that I would be an A-10 pilot without my brother’s help,” said Chris. “Ever since I joined the Air Force, I’ve called him for advice. Even today, as I go through [pilot certification] upgrades he’s already been through, I look through his past experiences to see the best path to take.”

Once he joined the reserve, Chris was able to select not only the same aircraft as his brother, but become part of his Flying Tigers team at Moody, a very rare opportunity for both of them.

Since Chris arrived here more than two years ago, the brothers have been trying to schedule their flight together, but, until now, schedule conflicts and various circumstances have always stood in their way.

During their flight, Matt fulfilled the position of flight lead, a role that came natural to him given their relationship.

“As the flight lead, it is my job to ensure my wingman knows where to be and what to kill, but along with that, it is the flight lead’s responsibility to protect and guide the wingman,” said Matt. “I think it is natural for a big brother to want to protect his little brother. It ended up being just like when we were kids and it was my job to make sure the neighbor kids didn’t pick on my brothers.”

Although Matt has served as his little brother’s guardian against others, they have always been competitive with each other, a rivalry that stood out during their flight.

“Our relationship is exactly the same now as when were kids,” said Matt. “Sibling rivalry is still alive and well in the Shelly family and that came out on the bombing range. Turns out, I am the better bomber by 5 to 1, but Chris is better at shooting the gun, so we were both able to go home with bragging rights.”

Although their day was one to remember and a very cool experience for the both of them personally, it was also monumental for the Air Force. Their experience demonstrated the existence of total force integration, the use of multiple components of the Air Force, which can include active duty, reserve or guard, to maintain and grow the force’s operational capability and functionality.

While very unique to have two brothers flying together, it is not rare to have active duty Airmen and reservists training and fighting together in order to achieve the overall mission.

Despite how often they work, Airmen, especially fighter pilots, are a total force family, something Matt was able to say after witnessing it during his flight with his brother.

“Flying with my little brother really opened my perspective on how special it is to be a part of a fighter squadron,” said Matt. “It was crazy how familiar it was flying with my brother. That may be because I am always flying with my brother, maybe not my biological brother, but every wingman that has ever flown on my wing, whether they’re active duty, reservist, or guardsman, qualifies as my brother in every sense of the term.”