Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok often receives “unfiltered criticism” from his young children about his flying technique.
Most recently, his 7-year-old son, Richard III, reminded him he didn’t include any “loops” in an airshow performance. And while Rusnok’s position in the U.S. Marine Corps might not always involve performing loops, the 39-year-old’s experience in aviation certainly doesn’t end there.
A Pittston native, Rusnok was featured in the Aug. 22, 1993 edition of the Sunday Dispatch’s “Spotlight” after he spent a week at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and received special certification from David Yuhas and John Borzell of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Although this wasn’t the beginning of Rusnok’s love for aviation, it was the start to a career in the Marine Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps in 2015.
Earlier this summer, Rusnok made a historic, trans-Atlantic flight to the United Kingdom.
On June 29, Rusnok, as part of the Marine-RAF (Royal Air Force) team, piloted an F-35B Lightning II from the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C. across the Atlantic Ocean, landing at Royal Air Force Base in Fairford, Gloucester, England. It was an opportunity for the team to introduce the F-35B to the British public, Rusnok said.
This wasn’t Rusnok’s first flight over the Atlantic Ocean. In 2006, he piloted an AV-8B Harrier across the pond.
“Flying across the Atlantic Ocean in a fighter jet is not like flying across in an airliner,” he said. “You are in an anti-exposure suit and strapped into an ejection seat for over 10 hours.”
Rusnok’s jet was part of a three-jet fleet that needed to be refueled 13 times by two KC-10 Extenders, which is an aerial refueling tanker aircraft. To refuel, the tanker extends a long hose from the back of the aircraft. Rusnok’s jet then, at approximately 300 mph, extends its own probe from the side of the aircraft to pump in the fuel.
Deep roots in aviation
Rusnok, the son of Richard and Kathy Rusnok, has been in love with flying for as long as he can remember.
Prior to his senior year at Pittston Area, he attended the Coast Guard’s Academy Introduction Mission (AIM) program. He was among 213 high school juniors to receive first-hand exposure of a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy. To get accepted to the program, Rusnok needed a minimum score of 1,000 on his SATs. That wasn’t an issue, as he was ranked first in his class of 267 students at Pittston Area.
Throughout his career at Pittston Area, Rusnok was involved with many extra curricular activities with the school. He was the class treasurer, a member of the Stand Tall Club, the Ski Club, the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, Communications Club, Young Lawyers Club, Chemistry Club and Junior Engineering and Technology Society. The 1994 graduate was also a student leader of the Junior Leadership Wilkes-Barre Board.
Upon graduation from Pittston Area, Rusnok graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in history and was commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He then attended George Washington University and earned a Master of Arts in history. From there, he finished basic training in Quantico, Va. and was assigned to the 8th Flying Training Squadron in Enid, Okla.
Throughout his career, Rusnok has received numerous medals and awards.
He has been awarded the Air Medal with six Strike/Flight Awards, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two Gold Stars, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguising Device and Gold Star, and two Sea Service Deployment ribbons.
In 2011, Rusnok was named the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s John Glenn Squadron Marine Corps Test Pilot of the Year and the 2011 National Defense Industrial Association Military Tester of the Year.
So far in his time with the Marine Corps, Rusnok has accumulated more than 2,300 flight hours in over 20 different military aircraft.
He and his wife Kara have three children: Richard III, 7; Kieran, 4; and Genevra, 2. The family lives on Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The pilot tries to make it back the Greater Pittston area as much as he can to visit his family. He said his parents had a lot to do with allowing him to stay involved in aviation.
“I was lucky enough to have parents that indulged my obsession with aircraft and ensured that I had every opportunity to pursue my dreams,” he said.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick