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Burb's Eye View: Pilot goes from the military to movies

September 18, 2012|By Bryan Mahoney

You could say a military life was in the Arrington family's blood, but though his father served on nuclear submarines, Randy Arrington found his calling far above sea level as an attack pilot.

The same holds true for Hollywood: Arrington's father worked as an electrician at the old Hollywood General Studios, while Randy Arrington hopes the movie he wrote based on his experiences as a U.S. Customs pilot will one day be released from production limbo.

“I wrote that to honor naval aviators,” Arrington said. “It's further come full circle to honor all military aviators.”

“Kerosene Cowboys” began as a novel of “fact-tion” Arrington wrote to honor fellow pilots from his U.S. Customs squadron in New Orleans. The pilots' missions often consisted of rescuing drug mules who would dehydrate as they attempted to cross into the United States. Their role was different from that of border-patrol units, which Arrington said would “go up, view the guys, and go down.”


Honoring pilots would become a central theme in Arrington's work.

He started his military career in ROTC at UCLA. On graduation day he was commissioned as an officer and headed to Florida for his first taste of flight training. In November 1978, he earned his wings.

Growing up, Arrington saw the end of the cowboy era replaced by the nation's advancements in jet propulsion and aerial warfare. These “kerosene cowboys” had a job most people could only dream of and few could attain. Spurred by his father, Arrington dedicated his life to military service. After nine years active duty as a tactical pilot, Arrington spent 11 as a reservist, flying 140 to 200 days a year to maintain his skills.

“For attack pilots, you've got to fly a lot to stay current,” he said. “When you're in that jet, you're a weapons system.”

He went on to earn his doctorate and teach political science at the university level, and eventually became Deputy Director of Air Operations for U.S. Customs in San Diego. It was a position he held on Sept. 11, 2001, when 45 minutes after the second plane hit New York's World Trade Center, Arrington was ordered to fly seven Secret Service agents to the president's location. With U.S. airspace closed, he had to answer to two F-16s dispatched by Air Force One to identify him as a bogey or a friendly.

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