It’s a warm, sunny day and the flightline at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., is inexplicably quiet. An F-22 Raptor sits idly on the concrete in front of Hangar 1200, its twin vertical stabilizers and larger frame making it stick out like a sore thumb among the base’s many F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Suddenly, hard rock music and a gritty voice crash through the silence. From the right, another F-22 takes off from the runway and soars into the sky, engines roaring. The show has begun.
Maj. Paul Lopez, Air Combat Command F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team pilot, was certified by Maj. Gen. Scott Zobrist, 9th Air Force commander, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Nov. 30.
In order to be recognized as a certified aerial demonstration pilot, specially-selected fighter pilots must complete a series of training tasks. After familiarizing himself with the routine in a simulator and completing more than 15 training rides with an experienced demonstration pilot, Lopez was ready to certify. The multi-step certification process involves learning and successfully conducting an aerial demonstration routine in the presence of commanders at the group, wing, numbered air force, and major command levels.
“It’s one of the steps we need in order to go on the road next year and showcase the Raptor,” said Lopez.
As a demonstration pilot, Lopez will dedicate the next two years to showcasing the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor alongside other members of the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team at air shows and special events across the country, a mission he is proud to support.
“Whether you’re Maj. John Waters, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team pilot; Capt. Cody Wilton, A-10 Warthog Demonstration Team pilot; or one of the Heritage Flight pilots, we’re all here to highlight the legacy of the U.S. Air Force by honoring our past, present, and future,” explained Lopez. “By taking these demonstrations on the road, we’re able to recruit and retain America’s finest and enhance international and domestic relationships.”
If the crowd that gathered at Hangar 1200 to watch the certification demonstration is any indication, Lopez and his team will be highly successful at inspiring the next generation of aviators and aviation enthusiasts, or at the very least dropping a few jaws.
“It’s really something to see,” said Darren Hurst, retired Team Shaw member. “The things that jet can do! In my day, we only imagined jets that were capable of some of the things I saw today. It’s incredible to see just how far we’ve come.”
Lopez said he is especially excited to be certifying as an aerial demonstration pilot because he was inspired as a child by the type of demonstration he flies today.
“I grew up in Virginia Beach near Naval Air Station Oceana, which is a massive jet base where they taught pilots back in the day how to fly the F-14 Tomcat, and now they’re teaching pilots to fly the F-18 Hornet,” said Lopez. “I would see those jets going over my house as a little kid. That, and my parents taking me to air shows, inspired me to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
“Aviation is my passion,” he continued. “I truly love what I do.”
To learn more about the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, visit www.acc.af.mil/Home/Aerial-Events/F-22A-Demo-Team/.