From pilot’s seat to first chair, Grissom pilot controls multi-faceted roles

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Courtney Dotson-Essett
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Whether slipping the surly bonds flight, or playing with the Indianapolis symphony, one Grissom aviator finds harmony in music and aviation.

Capt. Rob Reilly, is a KC-135R Stratotanker pilot assigned to the 72nd Air Refueling Squadron. He also sits as a first chair violinist with the Indianapolis Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I started taking lessons when my dad was stationed at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma,” he said.

While his father was piloting aircraft for the Air Force, Reilly was practicing the violin, spending his days and eventually years, literally fine tuning the craft.

“I don’t have a very musical family. I’m sort of an anomaly I guess,” he joked.

The practice paid off. Reilly shared his gift and became a high school orchestra teacher. He also followed in the footsteps of his dad and enlisted in the Air Force, first as a fuels system technician.

He’s spent the last three of his ten years in as a pilot. It’s been a big transition but one he’s embraced.

“It’s been great being a full-time pilot,” said Reilly. “I love the job. When I was going through training, I didn’t have time to play music at all because it was such an intensive training environment.”

Once training was finished and things slowed down for him, he picked up his bow a little more often.

“It’s been in the last year or two that I’ve had time to pick up and play more and that’s when I joined the Philharmonic in Indy,” the Illinois native said.

He’s played for the organization for the last year and a half. Typically, he would have weekly rehearsals and quarterly concerts.

The covid-19 pandemic, however, has put a pause on the orchestra’s rehearsals and concerts.

“Right around March we were getting ready for a spring concert and that’s when everything sort of kicked off, said Reilly. “We cancelled rehearsals and went on an indefinite leave. I’m finally starting to get some emails and there’s a virtual concert that I’ll probably participate in coming up soon.”

Undoubtedly, he’s missed playing with the orchestra. But that’s why Indianapolis’ Philharmonic is perfect for Reilly. It’s made up of volunteer musicians who love music but have other occupations.

“Flying in the Air Force is my passion and that takes up most of my time. But playing music is always just a really nice palate cleanser. It helps me relax and come back to reality. I kind of use it a resiliency tool.”

While he’s years from staring down the runway into retirement, Reilly doesn’t believe he’ll pursue music professionally again.

 “I think the reason why is that I really like having music as my hobby and passion and less as my job. It’s more fun when it’s just for fun and less for money,” he said.

Keeping a pilot who is passionate about flying as his job is sweet note and a win for the Air Force.