02/10/06 — Seymour Johnson AFB unveils new F-15E demonstration team

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Seymour Johnson AFB unveils new F-15E demonstration team

By Turner Walston
Published in News on February 10, 2006 1:57 PM

Behind every great fighter pilot is an equally accomplished crew.

Starting next month, 14 airmen from Seymour Johnson will work harder than ever, as they take their F-15E Strike Eagle demonstration team on the road. And while the pilots and jets usually get most of the cheers, other members of the team are just as much a part of the show.

Capt. Shelly Mendieta, a narrator for the team, said she is excited to help show off the capabilities of the F-15E. When crowds look to the sky, she added, they are seeing reflections of that team effort.

Demonstration team

News-Argus/Mitch Loeber

An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off during a practice run of the new Seymour Johnson Air Force Base demonstration team's performance.

“I love showing everybody what the Strike Eagle is capable of, and what we do day to day,” Ms. Mendieta said. “This gives us the opportunity to show people in different places. And it’s completely a team effort.”

The team consists of a two-man air crew, two narrators, two safety officers, a team chief and assistant team chief, an engines specialist, an avionics specialist and four crew chiefs.

Ms. Mendieta said the 15-minute air show actually starts about three hours prior to takeoff, when all 14 meet for a briefing session.

As showtime draws near, roughly 40 minutes before takeoff, the ground team sets up communications. Safety observers position themselves on the ground and initiate radio contact with Capt. Al Kennedy and weapons systems officer Capt. Jack Stallworth.

Less than an hour later, liftoff.

From the ground, Ms. Mendieta’s narration flows with the airshow, designed to showcase the Strike Eagle’s capabilities. Maneuvers include a gun strafe pass and dive bomb pass to simulate firing weapons.

“When we get to the air show, we’ll have pyrotechnics,” she said.

After a series of low-level turns and rolls, the crew positions the aircraft behind the air show audience for its final Maneuvers. The Strike Eagle approaches and tilts, with the cockpit toward the crowd as the jet races overhead.

“Capt. Kennedy, Capt. Stallworth and the rest of the F-15E Demo Team from the 4th Fighter Wing wish to dedicate this pass to all the war fighters of the United States Armed Forces and its Allies,” Ms. Mendieta says during the show. “A tribute to all those who came before us, who are fighting now, and those who will defend our freedom in the future.”

Not all team members will travel to all airshows. Four aircraft are designated for the demonstration team, and the team will take two, a primary and secondary aircraft, with them to bases for shows.

Team members collaborate on the show, with Kennedy making the final selections, so the Maneuvers in the air match the music and narration on the ground.

Staff Sgt. Nick Ward, avionics specialist for the team, said the opportunity to show off Seymour Johnson’s aircraft is inspiring. He gets to work on the aircraft every day, and loves his job.

But Ward admits that being on the demo team galvanizes him even more.

“It’s a lot more exciting when you’re doing it for this,” he said. “This is the coolest job in the Air Force.”

Ward said he’s looking forward to showing off the F-15E close to home, when the demo team is scheduled to perform near his hometown of Modesto, Calif.

“It’ll be a huge weight off of our shoulders,” Ward said. “There will be a sense of elation, and I’ll be extremely relieved.”

Ward said he and his fellow maintainors don’t crave the attention given to the Kennedy and Stallworth, and are satisfied knowing they helped get the Strike Eagle off the ground.

“They’re entitled to the glory,” he said. “We enjoy being behind the scenes. We’ll stay in the background.”

The demonstration team has been certified by 9th Air Force, and is scheduled to practice next week for Air Combat Command officials at Langley Air Force Base, Va. for final certification before hitting the air show circuit.

Most of the demo team’s performance schedule has not yet been officially announced. Their first air show will take place at Fort Smith, Ark., on March 25 and 26, and the team will make its home debut at Seymour Johnson’s Wings Over Wayne Air Show, on Sunday, Oct. 15.

Until then, Wayne County residents can enjoy the team’s practices. Look skyward on Friday, Feb. 24, at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a preview.

Whether in the air or on the ground, the team members say they enjoy the opportunity to show off the 4th Fighter Wing’s signature aircraft.

“I love showing everybody what the Strike Eagle is capable of, and what we do day to day,” Mendieta says. “This gives us the opportunity to show people in different places. I think it’s going to be awe-inspiring. It’s a chance to show them how hard we’re working and what capability we bring to the United States Air Force.”