04/20/09 — Seymour Johnson's F-15E demo team set for home performance

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Seymour Johnson's F-15E demo team set for home performance

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 20, 2009 1:46 PM

A few minutes inside a Rhode Island Veterans Affairs Hospital gave Capt. Phil Smith some perspective.

He was touring the facility as a representative of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's own F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team -- a team he has commanded from the skies over dozens of air show crowds -- when he came across a 22-year-old Army specialist.

"His crew was saved by a Strike Eagle. Something like that, it puts a face to the guys on the ground," Smith said. "We're making a difference. It's a very rewarding thing. When someone comes up to you and says, 'An F-15 saved my butt,' it's just an awesome experience."

For the past several months, the young captain and other members of the team have been making memories and leaving fans of high-speed flight awestruck from Texas to California.

And later this spring and summer, they -- and their aircraft -- will be hitting the international stage.

But Smith contends that this weekend's performance at Wings Over Wayne will be among the most memorable.

After all, it's been two years since they brought the home crowd to its feet.

"People out in the community, they hear the noise, they see us making the noise. They see it on Berkeley," Smith said. "So now, everybody who hears it and sees it gets an up-close and personal look."

And it's a chance for the airmen and public to continue to nurture an "awesome," "supportive," relationship as deployments loom for those who make up Seymour Johnson's 4th Fighter Wing and 916th Air Refueling Wing.

"This community is awesome. I only have great things to say," Smith said before mentioning all the care-packages Wayne County residents send deployed airmen and they support they offer to those family members left behind. "And it's also great when someone comes up to you and says something like, 'Oh, you're the one I see as I'm driving down Berkeley.'"

So those who turn out for this weekend's two-day air show should expect to see Smith and his crew push their aircraft to the limit -- to see explosions on the ground as Seymour Johnson's own Strike Eagle rips through the clouds and makes a strafing pass.

A performance, Smith said, that would still leave him wide-eyed if he weren't in the cockpit.

"I'm still amazed by this airplane," he said. "Being the Demo Team pilot, it's a real honor."