WPAFB special operations director hangs up hat after 40-plus years

Dave Egner says he doesn’t enjoy games, but his strategic skills in helping operate Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s airfield and more make him look like a chess grandmaster.

Egner retires April 2 after more than four decades of Air Force service as active-duty military and then a civilian overseeing a multitude of Wright-Patt aerial events, high-level VIP visits and National Museum of the U.S. Air Force flying events.

Additional duties included head positions as Air Force operations coordinator for the Dayton Air Show, hurricane evacuation safe-haven officer, and special-operations missions at Wright-Patt and other locations, including the 2002 Winter Olympics near Hill AFB, Utah.

He is mindful, in particular, of the machinations it takes when aircraft need to “hurevac” to Wright-Patt. When weather required aircraft from the East and Gulf coasts to be evacuated, Egner determined how many planes the base’s airfield and other resources could accommodate.

“It is like playing chess, because at times, we would have to ensure the Gulf Coast aircraft were gone before we could take on the East Coast ones,” he said.

Egner came on base in January 1981 after six years of active-duty service to work as an air traffic control specialist. He then cemented his reputation by stepping up as director of Air Power in 2003 during the Air Force’s and Dayton community’s salute to the Wright brothers’ 100th anniversary of controlled, powered flight.

After a promotion to deputy chief of airfield management, he was asked to be the air boss for the very first Air Force Materiel Command Tattoo, held on the Air Force museum grounds in 2005. Promoted to its program director, Egner and his team successfully produced the annual event through 2015, growing the spectator crowd to 75,000 in 2009.

He said Thomas Zerba, back when he was AFMC deputy chief of staff, was a great support during the Tattoo years.

“He knew my talents and was able to get me in front of decision-makers,” he said.

Egner also recalled the support of Lt. Gen. John Thompson, now Space and Missile Systems Center commander, and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Richard Reynolds of AFMC.

Egner is modest about his achievements. He is quick to highlight others, including the Air Force museum’s special operations staff, who he said welcomed him into their “family.”

“It’s not me who did all these things,” he said. “It’s finding the right people to work with me. There is a lot of talent on this base, from military to civilians to contractors. We have such a team here. It’s the right balance, and it always came together.”

Holding a commercial pilot certificate with instrument- and certified-flight instructor ratings, Egner said – pun intended – the time has flown by.

“I wasn’t thinking I would be here for 40 years, but I have, and in this building (Bldg. 206, Area A) for all that time,” he said. “I love history, I love aviation and I love the history of Wright-Patterson and our unique mission. I call it ‘Walt Disney World North’ because of the neat things we get to do here.”

Lt. Col. Laura Porter, 88th Operations Support Squadron commander, said Egner has a great attitude and always “goes above and beyond” to complete the mission and help others.

“He’s just amazing, and he is a fountain of knowledge,” she said. “He has ties and bridges to so many people and so many positive relationships he has fostered over the years.”

Porter recalled when former President Donald Trump visited Dayton after the Aug. 4, 2019, mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District and the base had only 48 hours’ notice before Air Force One’s arrival.

“It was amazing the way Dave made it happen. I call it the ‘Egner magic,’” she said. “He considers the missions we support ‘no fail,’ and he goes to the Nth-degree to ensure every detail is in its place and that when people leave, they say, ‘Wow, that was the best support I’ve ever had.’”

Egner enjoyed the variety of his work, saying no two days were alike. He said he tried to always appear to remain calm during stressful times, smiling and then whispering into the right person’s ear that an issue needed to be resolved.

“My job has been to ensure special events have been conducted within Air Force and federal aviation regulations,” he said. “We do it safely, from landings to static displays to honoring the Doolittle Raiders. The things I’ve done and the people I’ve met have been phenomenal. I look back, and I want to pinch myself.”

Egner said he is grateful to the Air Force for allowing him to have such a great career. He turned down a lot of opportunities to work elsewhere, but his love for the job and Wright-Patterson AFB always held him fast.

Egner said he plans to remain as physically active as he has been, pursuing his beloved piloting, water sports and outdoor activities with his wife, Julie, and visiting their four successful daughters. Their collie, Nada, is always close by.

John Vance — a pilot, retired Air Force officer and former civilian air-mobility exercise planner at Scott AFB, Illinois, with three decades of Air Force experience — replaced Egner March 1, and the two have worked together for weeks to ensure a smooth transition.

Porter said Vance “hit the ground sprinting and is cut from the same cloth as Egner.”

While she said she is thrilled to have Vance in the position, Egner’s legacy will remain.

“He’s the best and will be sorely missed,” Porter said.

Room dedicated in Egner’s honor

The 88 OSS “Knights of the Airfield” aircrew flight planning room in Bldg. 206 is being dedicated to Egner on April 2, Porter announced. A plaque has been placed outside the door denoting his dedicated service.

About the Author