These words come to mind when watching the spectacular aerobatics performed by the Patriots Jet Team. A demanding discipline, performance aerobatic flying is a concentrated blend of technique, mastery, and style which requires professional and highly experienced pilots.
The story of the Patriots Jet Team, the largest civilian-owned aerobatic jet team in the world, began with the vision of one person, Randy Howell. Fueled by a passion for aviation since childhood, it became Howell’s mission to create a six-jet precision demonstration team that could entertain, inspire, and educate.
This year’s event will feature veteran airshow announcer Lt. Colonel Jon “Huggy” Huggins. In his 20+ years of airshow experience he’s seen it all, and has been announcing air shows on the West Coast to great response since 2007. As a full time instructor on the USAF U-2 and T-38 (some serious, serious aircraft) for the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale AFB, Huggy has over 7000 military pilot hours under his belt, and more combined T-38 and U-2 flight time than any pilot in the past 25 years. As much a historical aviation buff as he is a world-class pilot, we couldn’t ask for a better announcer to take charge of our 7th Anniversary and Airshow’s microphone.
Pilot: Vicky Benzing
Aircraft: Boeing Stearman
Born and raised in California, Vicky Benzing is an accomplished pilot, skydiver, aerobatic competitor, and Reno racer. With over 6000 hours of flight time and over 1100 parachute jumps, Vicky has a passion for everything airborne.
In 2005, Vicky began training with air show legend and trainer to the stars, Wayne Handley. Working her way up the ladder, Vicky competed in International Aerobatic Club competitions throughout the US. In 2006 she won first place in the Intermediate Category in both the Northwest and Southwest Regional Championships. After moving up to the Advanced Category she won third place in the 2008 and 2009 Northwest Regional Championships and placed in the top 10 finishers at the US National Aerobatic Championships in 2008. In between flying competitions Vicky began performing at local air shows. Today she focuses her energies on her air show performances where she continues to thrill and inspire audiences up and down the West Coast.
One of th emomost riveting events at an Air Show is the moment Smoke-n-Thunder JetCar takes on a plane in a race to the finish line. Who is the fastest by land or air? Accelerating from zero to almost 400mph in just nine seconds, Smoke-n-Thunder is the fastest JetCar in the AirShow Industry.
The JetCar Pilot, Bill Braack, is a 20-year veteran of the Air Force Reserve. He knows there is no room for error when handling a car that is equipped with a 12,000 horsepower engine. As a plane flies in low and fast, Braack selects full afterburner and overtakes the plane in just seconds.
Bill Braack began drag racing in 1982 and three years later joined the Air Force and worked in aircraft maintenance. Longing to fly, Bill obtained his pilot's license in 1989 and began flying C-130's for the Air Force as a Flight Engineer.
Bill left active duty Air Force in 1991 and joined the Air Force Reserve, where he continued flying as a Flight Engineer on C-141's until retiring in 2005. He holds FAA ratings as a flight engineer & pilot, logging over 3,000 flight hours.
Just In Time Skydivers started in 1967 on the East Coast. Based out of Lakewood, New Jersey, the team jumped the then-current low-performance round parachutes into air shows and other special events.
Moving to the West Coast in 1970 they now operate out of Lake Elsinore, California and jump state-of-the-art equipment and high-performance ram-air parachutes. Through the years they have jumped into places like Dodger Stadium, Santa Anita Racetrack, the Queen Mary, the Rose Bowl, and the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
The team's latest trip abroad was in August of 2003 when they jumped into the closing ceremonies of the World Aerobatic Championships in Debrasen, Hungary, where they jumped from AN-2s, the old workhorse bi-planes from Russia.
More recently 20 of them jumped from a DC-3 into the Phoenix 500 Air races where freefall footage of their jumps was played back instantaneously on a 50x50 foot Jumbotron screen.
The team jumps with as many as thirty skydivers. The core group of four is headed by Rich Piccirilli and Lynn Fogleman. The team freefall photographer is Kent Gifford, whose father was one of the aerial photographers on the movie The Gypsy Moths (1969).
Pilot: Jon Melby
Aircraft: Pitts S-1-11B Muscle Bi-Plane
Jon Melby is an airshow pilot with over 35 years of flying experience. He is surface level aerobatic qualified, formation aerobatic qualified, and holds an Airline Transport Pilot rating. He has flown dozens of aircraft types and currently performs in a highly modified Pitts S-1-11B bi-plane.
At the age of 12, he had the opportunity to meet the legendary airshow pilot Bob Hoover at a local airshow. Bob Hoover’s sincerity and great personality gave him the inspiration to pursue his dream of flying. When he was financially able, he made it a goal to solo in a non-powered glider before his 16th birthday. In only 8 flights, he achieved his goal by riding a bicycle 45 miles, on hot Arizona July summer weekends, to the nearest glider airport!
Now, flying “extreme” freestyle aerobatics at Airshows, Jon can encourage both adults and children to pursue their dreams, much like Bob Hoover did for him.
When not flying his airplane, Jon is a Technical Senior Manager for a major stock brokerage firm. Jon also enjoys many other activities other than flying. Jon plays Ice Hockey (since 4 years old), golf, snow skiing, playing guitar, rides his Harley Davidson Motorcycle, and enjoys to travel no matter the destination.
AVIATION IS A CRITICAL PART OF AMERICA’S HISTORY AND ITS’ FUTURE. The team is committed to inspiring youth and promoting aviation by safely demonstrating essential skills developed by our military for use in operations around the world and passing those skills onto the next generation of aviators. This reflects the philosophy of our sponsor Allegiant Air, “to promote safety through discipline, attention to detail and constantly striving to improve.” Nothing good is ever easy and to be the best requires constant effort.
The Red Eagles fly the Russian designed YAK-52 aircraft. This was the basic trainer for Soviet forces. It is rugged, reliable and relatively straightforward to operate. This aircraft is powered by a 360 HP 9 cylinder radial engine (the Veneneyev M-14P). Fuel consumption is relatively modest (12.5 – 19 gallons per hour). This rugged performer is stressed to +7 to -5 Gs and can easily operate out of unprepared fields. The “green-house” canopy provides excellent visibility and the tandem seating features dual controls. When used in the training environment, the instructor occupies the rear cockpit. The aircraft that you see today have been modified with smoke systems to enhance the performance for spectators.