It's been quite a ride for Lt. Col. Sean 'Stroker' Gustafson.
He's fit a lot in along the way from his summers fishing on Lake of the Woods at his grandparents' lodge to the executive boardroom at Draken International, where he helps train the best fighter pilots in the world, who also feel the need for speed.
Lt. Col. Sean 'Stroker' Gustafson flies with the Black Diamond demonstration team
"Absolutely, and I can't wait for Top Gun 2 to come out," he said yesterday by phone.
"That's why I became a fighter pilot. I thought what better career in the world, when I saw that. It's been quite a thrill," he added.
Along with his brother Chris, and his parents Bob and Cheryl, Sean says he spent most of their summers at Gustafson's Resort, which was started by his grandparents Walter and Betty.
There must definitely be something in the water, as it's also been home base for professional angler Jeff 'Gussy' Gustafson, and it's next to Hockey Haven Road, the lodge owned by Hall of Fame goalie Chuck Rayner.
"I grew up at Longbow Lake and spent all my time as a youth in Kenora and surrounding area fishing and exploring creeks and the bush around there," said Sean Gustafson.
"I have a strong connection to Kenora, and I love going back there," he said yesterday.
The family also spent time in Lundar, Killarney and Winnipeg.
At 18, though, he left Canada for the U.S., where he served two years as a private in the army starting in 1990, so he could pay for school.
He earned an engineering degree at the University of Central Florida, before turning his focus to flying full-time.
He served in active duty for 10 years, including operations over Iraq.
"I've flown all over the world. Germany, South Korea and all across the United States. I've flown pretty much every continent, and I've had an amazing time in the air force active duty, then transitioned to the reserves."
When he wasn't with the Air Force National Guard, his full-time job was flying 767's for Delta Airlines on routes to Europe and Africa.
He made history and the pages of Air Force Magazine, when he became the first reservist to become a member of the aerobatic demonstration team the Thunderbirds. In 2009-2010 Lt. Col. Sean 'Stroker' Gustafson flew F-16's in the #4 spot, including an epic joint show with the Blue Angels and their F-18's over New York City.
Lt. Col. Sean 'Stroker' Gustafson offers a view from the cockpit at 4:28 mark of the video
"I think it's just the three-dimensional aspect of it. Just to be able to go upside down go supersonic whenever I wanted. The fastest I've gone is about Mach 2.02 or 20 miles a minute. I just love the thrill of flying, either it's low level or supersonic or flying upside down," he said.
One of Gustafson's favourite memories is flying inverted over the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, with 250,000 spectators below.
He's now a senior pilot with over 2,500 fighter hours in the F-16. He's also flown the F-35 Stealth, T-38 Talon and L-39 Albatross. As if that wasn't enough, this weekend he's looking forward to flying a MiG-29.
"One of my friends has one, and it's a thrill to fly it," he said, before explaining how his new employer acquires aircraft.
Draken International was started by an internet billionaire, who wanted to do something different with all the money he'd made from digital payment processing systems. In all, they've accumulated 150 tactical ex-military fighter aircraft.
A video clip from Draken International showing their services in Nevada, not far from the Vegas strip.
"We use that for training, because there's a huge cost savings for air forces," he said, noting they continue operating during the pandemic as an essential service.
Gustafson is the vice-president in charge of business development for Draken, which means he oversees Top Gun graduates, as they fly against the best current pilots from the U.S. Air Force and Navy. At times, Draken -- which means dragon -- also does work with their Canadian equivalent, Top Aces in Montreal.
As private industry moves into space, he says space flight is also on the horizon.
"Just don't take 'no' for an answer. It's absolutely worth the journey," he said.
For more information:
Top Gun 2: Maverick official trailer