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Air Force jet fighter technician Ron Darby became 'go-to' guy for Saudis

Air Force jet fighter technician Ron Darby became 'go-to' guy for Saudis

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KEARNEY — Life is an adventure if you’re not afraid to “cross the street,” said Ron Darby.

He grew up on a farm between Hazard and Pleasanton, and spent 30 years in Saudi Arabia, including 11 years in the U.S. Air Force honing the technological skills he tapped throughout his military and civilian careers keeping jet fighters in the air.

Darby’s initial goal was to be the best technician on his team. Ultimately, he sought to be the best leader for the organizations placed under his control.

“It applies to anyone, if you’re the guy working at the Ford dealership or on an irrigation system, if you apply yourself and know more than anyone else, you become the go-to guy,” Darby said about his philosophy.

It was in the wheat fields of the United States where Darby’s adventure began.

In 1970, after he graduated from Pleasanton High School, he joined a custom harvest crew working the Wheat Belt. After that summer, in March 1971, Darby enlisted in the Air Force. He demonstrated the aptitude to work with avionics — the instruments, such as autopilot and radar, that enable aircraft to fly in marginal conditions or, in the case of military aircraft, to boost their efficiency as weapons of war.

He said in the military, electronics specialists are known as “spark chasers.” That nickname applied for much of the 11 years of his Air Force career, which included hitches stateside as well as time in Great Britain, where he supported U.S. forces in Vietnam by repairing and upgrading fighter-bombers used in the war.

Darby said he followed in the footsteps of his father, Richard Darby, into the military.

His dad flew DC-3 cargo planes, ferrying people and materials into fighting zones and the wounded people out during World War II.

When Richard Darby was honorably discharged he returned to Pleasanton, but it wasn’t the end of his flying. He bought a small fabric-skinned Aeronca airplane.

Ron Darby said he remembers flying with his dad to family gatherings while his mother and the rest of the family drove to the events.

Later in his life, Darby spent a one-month leave learning to fly. Thirty days later he had his private pilot’s license.

Darby met his wife, Beverley, when he was stationed in England. The couple has been married 45 years and has a son and daughter.

Their son, Ryan, served 10 years in the Air Force, where he learned metal fabrication. Today, Ryan is a member of an elite team capable of repairing heavily damaged aircraft.

Two weeks ago he was repairing an airplane in Alaska.

Ron’s daughter, Renee, is an electronics expert in Bismarck, North Dakota.

After 11 years in the Air Force, Ron Darby entered the civilian ranks. His first move was to broaden his military skills with training in instruments and integration.

He used his skills in Saudi Arabia caring for fighter jets the Saudi Air Force purchased from the United States. He said a Saudi Air Force general was so impressed with Darby’s abilities that he did whatever he could to retain Darby because of his technical and organizational skills. He also had connections with other talented technicians.

“It was challenging, to say the least. I had 60-70 people under me so it was very challenging and rewarding,” Darby said.

From 2003 to 2009 Darby was a weapons systems logistics officer. “You’re basically the upper level trouble-shooter. You solve all the issues that come up.”

Later, he was COO of a company that provided parts for the Saudi Air Force. “We had multiple contracts supporting the Saudi Air Force.”

At one point his work involved swapping out jet fighter engines, a task that demanded expertise at multiple levels to adapt the airframe for the new engines, install new controls and make numerous modifications.

After the re-engine program Darby returned one more time to Saudi Arabia before retiring to Pleasanton in May 2017. He rents all the farm ground he owns, which clears his plate for pet projects, such as the pheasants he’s raising.

Recently, Darby rode horseback helping a neighbor round up and move 200 head of cattle.

“I had a good time helping him. I like horses,” he said. “You come in contact with a certain number of people in your life. Some of them would do anything for you, but my friend with the cattle, I would do anything for him.”

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