The Air Force Thunderbirds and GEICO Skytypers will headline this weekends MacDill Airfest in Tampa as the Air Force base recognizes its 75th anniversary with high performance aircraft and special events.
As popular military and civilian aircraft scream overhead, rare static displays on the ground will include the military’s popular and newest fighter jets — the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning. Gates are scheduled to open at 8:00 a.m. EDT, on Saturday and Sunday, and the first performances are planned for 11:15 a.m.
“The Tampa Bay AirFest is MacDill’s opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to our community and the state for all their incredible support,” said Col. Dan Tulley, Commander of MacDill AFB on Wednesday. “Guests will experience static displays of military aircraft, aerial demonstrations by military and civilian performers, and learn more about the military personnel and equipment MacDill Air Force Base uses to carry out the missions here.”
The Air Force’s 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill will monitor this weekends air show for both public safety, and the impending threat of showers on Saturday. Rain in association with a cold front could delay several afternoon performances as the temperature climbs to 83 degrees. Scattered clouds and cooler conditions are expected on Sunday.
The world-famous GEICO Skytypers are scheduled to perform on both days at about 1:00 p.m., showcasing low level maneuvers and creating huge sky-typed messages over the crowds. The civilian team, whose history dates back to the 1970’s, is celebrating its 10th anniversary season as the GEICO Skytypers.
The Airfest will be a homecoming for one Skytyper pilot who previously trained in military jets at the Tampa air base. As Lead Solo pilot Steve Salmirs and this aerospace journalist walked the flightline on Thursday, his excitement for the upcoming air show was very noticeable.
“This is an incredibly exciting airshow for me,” Salmirs said as we paused near the team’s six silver SNJ-2 aircraft. “I have not had the opportunity to visit, or to land at MacDill AFB since my primary F-16 fighter training was completed in 1984.”
Steve has flown with the team since 1996, and today, wears many hats as the executive officer designing new formations and managing training. “I am thrilled that GEICO has allowed me to come full circle and use the skills I have acquired to entertain the crowds at my training base. I am stoked,” he added.
A relaxed pilot with a great attitude, Salmirs paused with a more serious tone as he began to discuss his relationship with his squadron as they perform before the air show crowds. “You have the responsibility to be the best wingman in a formation, and once released to perform solo maneuvers, you are responsible for your wingman, deconfliction with the main formation, timing, ground and obstacle avoidance, airshow Rules of Engagement, and situational awareness in the environment and with emergency contingencies if they arise,” he said.
“We used to say in the military that you enjoyed the mission more in the debrief than in the actual flight because you are so focused and driven that you don’t have time to relax and appreciate your performance.” Steve then turned to his number 5 aircraft, its silver fuselage illuminated by the rising Sun on the morning dew.
The squadron will display their rare naval aircraft as the pilots recall an age prior to the jet engine when a single prop plane made the difference during the second world war. A flight trainer during the 1940’s and into the Korean War, their Naval SNJ-2 was known among the military’s aviators as the pilot maker.
“Although I love our whole routine, my favorite maneuvers are the “Guns Jink” and “Bomb Burst,” both allow maneuvering I haven’t seen since my military days”, he added. Steve then paused as two Thunderbirds took off for a practice flight, their jet engines overwhelming the conversation, “Our maneuvers are fundamentally unchanged from the 2015 season, but they are more refined and should present a tighter, more exciting 2016 season.”
The GEICO Skytypers, who have adopted Tampa Bay as their winter home for practices, will be kicking off the first of four air shows in the Sunshine State in 2016, and the first of a 15 show schedule. The squadron is lead by commanding officer Larry Arken in Skytyper 1, and includes Ken Johansen, Chris Orr, Bob Johansen (Ken’s father), Steve Salmirs and Tom Daly.
In honor of the military, the squadron will fly as a VIP Ms. Jiffy Helton on Thursday in honor of her son, 1st Lt Joseph Helton, who was killed in Iraq in September 2009. “While on patrol near Baghdad, during the second of two consecutive deployments for which he volunteered, Lieutenant Helton was hit by an explosively formed penetrator, one of the deadliest types of improvised explosive devices,” Skytypers spokesperson Brenda Little said on Thursday.
The MacDill Airfest will also include civilian performers Scott Yoak in his sleek P-51D Mustang; Mike Goulian piloting his Extra 330C aircraft; and Rob Holland to name a few. The Para-Commandos will perform the flag drop during the opening ceremonies with a precision parachute demonstration from 12,000 feet. The KC-135 Stratotanker, which provides cross country refueling operations for the Thunderbirds own F-16’s, will perform several flat passes over the MacDill runway.