A U.S. Air Force pilot and Annapolis native who died Tuesday in a crash in Nevada was both a dedicated service member and a dedicated father and son, loved ones said Saturday.
Lt. Col. Eric Schultz, 44, died as the result of a crash that occurred shortly after 6 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday while flying an undisclosed aircraft during a training mission on the Nevada Test and Training Range, about 100 miles northwest of Nellis Air Force Base, officials said in a statement. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
Schultz was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base at the time and living with his wife and children in Henderson, Nevada, a friend and fellow veteran Mike Whitehead said.
Schultz's father Larry Schultz and Whitehead described him as humble, caring and curious.
"He wowed us so many times over the years, it almost became routine," his father said.
Schultz was a combat veteran U.S. Air Force Test Pilot who served more than 2,000 hours flying various aircraft, friends and family wrote in a obituary submitted to The Capital. He held six degrees, including a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the California Institute of Technology and a master's degree in business administration from Penn State University.
He was rejected from the Air Force three times in a 10 year period due to vision problems, during which he earned his Ph.D. In 2001 the Air Force began accepting pilots who have undergone corrective eye surgery — Eric dropped everything and joined, his father said.
Despite his accomplishments, Schultz maintained his humility.
"If you met him in a social environment, you would never know whether he was a Ph.D. or a pilot," Schultz said.
His father recalls visiting him in California when he was earning his Ph.D., where he spoke with other students and professors who said Eric had a reputation as a mentor who was always willing to dedicate as much time as necessary to help others.
Before joining the Air Force he was a senior scientist and business development manager at the Pratt & Whitney Seattle Aerosciences Center and a rotary wing flight test engineer at the Naval Air Warfare Center, according to the obituary.
In the military he flew more than 210 missions flight testing the F-35 and CF-18. His military experience included a role as the Director of Operations and Exchange Officer for the Canadian Forces Flight Test Center, and systems engineering work for the Airborne Laser program.
He also served in Afghanistan, where he flew an F-15E in more than 50 close air support combat missions.
"He loved the hell out of flying," Whitehead said.
Whitehead met Schultz, who he called "Doc," in Guam in 2005 as part of the 391st Fighter Squadron during an exercise/deployment, and then flew along side him at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho for two years. Schultz's role as a mentor to others continued in his service. He was always eager to help and pass along information, and many young pilots sought his advice, Whitehead said.
Whitehead said Schultz was calm, thoughtful, and well-versed in tactics. He always had a good attitude, and an ability to calm down a situation to achieve the desired goal.
When Schultz was a captain, he was given the duties of a major, Whitehead said. He was promoted ahead of peers.
"He had so much talent and capability that he got leaned on pretty heavily pretty early," Whitehead said.
Schultz's love for aeronautics was life-long. He earned his private pilot's license at the age of 19, his father said. He wanted to become an astronaut, and to do so, he wanted to join the U.S. Air Force.
Once in the Air Force he advanced to test pilot school as quickly as possible, Whitehead said, earning entrance in about four and a half years, when it would normally take about eight. Test pilot school is one of the typical stepping stones on the path to becoming an astronaut, Whitehead said. But the dream of becoming an astronaut was never realized.
"By the time he got there the manned space program for the U.S. essentially shut down," Whitehead said.
There was one thing that trumped his love for country, Whitehead said – his love for friends and family.
Eric Schultz and his wife Julie Schultz were married in 2012, his father said. He was a father to five children, four from his wife's previous marriage as well as their own daughter, who is now four.
"Every minute of every day that he could be with them and help the children and mentor them and be a real good dad he was there," his father said.
And no matter where he was in the world, he came home for Christmas.
The family also attended Navy football games, including matches against the Air Force.
"He wouldn't admit it, but he rooted just as hard for the home town team," his father said.
The family had planned to attend the next match between Navy and Air Force, scheduled for Oct. 7.
Schultz, who now lives in Centreville with his wife Linda, said since his son's death they have heard from so many people, even those who knew him decades ago, that they can't keep up with the messages.
"He found a way to touch everybody in such as way that they don't forget it," he said.
Schultz's funeral will be held Sept. 12 in Las Vegas, Nevada. His father said they are planning a celebration of life in Maryland as well, at a to be determined date.
The family is accepting contributions for Eric's wife Julie through an online fundraising page, which can be found at www.youcaring.com/julieschultz-943161.