MANSFIELD -- Lt. Col. Matt Dudley has spent more than 4,000 hours piloting a C-130 aircraft for the 179th Airlift Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard.
A few seconds in the air over Mansfield on Friday morning meant the world to the 1996 Clear Fork High School graduate, leading a flight of two aircraft during a "Salute Ohio" flyover mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's great for us to to be in a position to give something back," the 41-year-old Bellville resident said before the two-hour flight that included Richland, Ashland, Crawford and Knox counties, as well as Lancaster to the south and Cleveland to the north.
"We see it in the news every day ... the police officers, firefighters and hospital workers on the front lines.
"To be able to to incorporate our training into something like this gives us a great chance to pay tribute and say thanks to the men and women doing this work," Dudley said.
The aircraft took off at 11 a.m. from the base at Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport.
Within just a couple of minutes, they were over Ontario and then flew directly at about 1,000 feet over an appreciative group of OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital employees who came outside to watch the flyby.
The hospital staff members waved, cheered and raised their phones to shoot photos and videos as the huge transport planes roared past.
The group included hospital President Vinson M. Yates, who said he loved the moment.
"I think as I listened to our associates and some of the physicians out they, they're so proud for what they do and this (flyover) is just a reminder that the community is deeply completely supporting everything they do," Yates said. "I just heard from an RN who said she come out today sort of not knowing what to expect and felt actually quite emotional by seeing the planes fly over ... and it gives them that one burst of positivity.
"I couldn't be prouder of our folks for the work they are doing each and every day. This (coronavirus) is going to be here a long period of time. The more we can embrace each other as community, and no matter how much we love embracing each other, these planes are pretty special," Yates said.
Dudley certainly knows the C-130 aircraft inside and out. His entire 24-year career has been spent with the 179th, beginning in maintenance as a crew chief and then working as a flight engineer before becoming a pilot in 2003.
Since becoming a pilot, it's been non-stop activity for Dudley and other aircrews. He has been deployed 11 times, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other parts of the world.
In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Air Force has adopted the flyovers around the country, including its own Thunderbirds air demonstration team. Reserve and Guard units like the 179th Airlift Wing have joined in.
"They have been flying over major cities and have had great success," Dudley said. "We said let's find a way to combine our training with a way of offering a big 'thank you' from the 179th to the hospital workers, police officers and firefighters."