One advantage of
wartime operations, is that pilots spend more time in the air. Thus the U.S.
Air Force now has two active duty (and 21 reservists) who have spent more than
4,000 in the air flying F-16s. Most career pilots only spend 2,000-3,000 hours
in the air over a twenty year career. This is because air force pilots
typically spend a large chunk of their career in school or non-flying jobs. In
peacetime, pilots assigned to a flying job, will get 200-400 hours in the air
each year. These days, transport pilots are getting 500-1,000 hours a year, and
even fighter pilots are in the air for 400 or more hours.
Some pilots are just lucky, like the
two active duty guys who have over 4,000 hours. They spent a lot of time in
training jobs, and stayed healthy (air force doctors will ground pilots for
lots of reasons). Many pilots will retire after twenty, or simply leave
earlier, and continue to fly in the reserves. That's how a lot of pilots who
got to 3,000 hours in 20 years of active duty, eventually got to over 4,000.
There are also two active duty F-15
pilots with over 4,000 hours, and six A-10 pilots. There may never be any F-22
pilots to rack up 4,000 hours. That's because F-22 pilots are spending much
less time in the air than pilots of older aircraft (mainly because the F-22 is
so expensive to operate).