By Michael Butler
To say Alex Harwick is an accomplished pilot is a bit of an understatement. In fact, he is one of the most accomplished fighter pilots in the history of the Air Force.
"I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1962. I went through pilot training in Selma in '63," Harwick said. "My class was the first class to go in the F-4 Phantom, which at the time had 15 world speed and climb records. As a result, I became the first person in the world to 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 hours in the Phantom.
"The F-4 was a Mach II aircraft. It was the premier fighter for a number of years," added Harwick. "The aircraft that followed was the F-15. I was lucky to be in the second class of the F-15, so I got to fly it as well. It was basically a super Phantom."
The popular movie "Top Gun" featured Tom Cruise. Harwick was the top gun during his day.
"I was the top gun my entire career."
Harwick in a 1978 photo from a McDonnel Aircraft Company magazine
Harwick flew during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia.
"I flew 259 missions. I flew about 761 hours. I only got hit once by a 23 millimeter that went through the wing. It didn't blow up, so I flew the airplane home. They put a metal patch on it. It was flying the next day."
Harwick retired as a Lt. Col. in 1984. He has resided all over the world.
"When my dad was in the Air Force, I started grade school in Japan. I graduated from high school in Paris, France. My own tours were in England, Holland, Spain, Denmark, Japan, Thailand, and also after I retired from the Air Force I spent six years in Italy and six years in Germany."
So, how did he end up in Tallassee?
"From the time I was six, I always wanted to farm," Harwick recalled. "I found a farm in Redland, a couple of hundred acres. It had everything I wanted; four springs, creeks, a lake, about 120 acres of pasture and the remaining woods. It had a place to put an airstrip, so at that point I knew I was from Alabama. I was a gypsy and really couldn't answer the question of where you're from."
Since becoming a Tallassean, Harwick has served as director of the Chamber of Commerce and manager of the local airport.
"I had four Russian airplanes at the time. Jim Cook had the hangar at the airport and was going to move to Auburn and asked if I wanted to buy the hangar. I did.
"There was no airport manager and no need for one because of the traffic. I volunteered to help the city manage the airport. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much interest. We lost the opportunity to have a company come in here that was going to help extend the runway, build a hangar and provide jobs for three people. A number of people would like to build Tee hangars here, but nothing seems to be happening. The airport is deteriorating. There's a long list of discrepancies that need to be fixed, but apparently that's not a priority."
Harwick still spends time at the Tallassee Airport and has an office there. On Aug. 4, he'll be welcoming back some former colleagues.
"The Class of '62 at the Air Force Academy's nickname is the 'Red Tags' because that was the color of the name tag that we wore. We're having a mini reunion. Some of my classmates, two from Colorado, are flying in. We do this every two or three months. They'll be here at the hangar. We'll be telling stories and making up some I'm sure."
Harwick is an author of six books.
"Two are updates of earlier versions. I'm getting those back this week from the printer. One is titled, "The Fun, Foolishness and Frivolity of Flying Fighters. It's a lot of alliteration, but it's a story about the pleasure of flying high performance aircraft. The other is more philosophical and titled, "Past, Present and Future?" It starts with creation and goes through current politics and has a lot of biblical scripture."
For those interested in a copy of any of Harwick's work, call him at 334-467-0946.