TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Ever since his parents took him to his first air show to see the Air Force Thunderbirds as a youth in Florence, Colo., Air Force Capt. Ryan Riley had wanted to fly jets.
He did not think he would be Thunderbird No. 2, one of those pilots who will be showing off the best F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter flying that the Air Force has to offer this weekend during the Skies Over Solano Air Power Expo at Travis.
“Back then, I thought it was real loud and exciting,” Ryan said.
Now, he describes his duty as part of the air demonstration squadron “to showcase American air power and show what we are as a country.”
Ryan was one of eight pilots and their ground crews who arrived Thursday afternoon at Travis to prepare for two days of afternoon headliner shows Saturday and Sunday.
They will share the Travis air show with military aircraft flybys, civilian aerial acrobatic shows, ground static displays of military aircraft and helicopters, vintage aircraft and live entertainment.
Gates will open to the Travis air show at 8:30 a.m. both days. Demonstrations and shows will start at about 10:30 a.m.
Ryan graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2003 and started flying F-16s not long after, doing tours as part of the war on terror.
“It is the best-flying plane there is,” Ryan said of the F-16. “It is a pilot’s dream.”
He found flying the precision formations with the Thunderbirds a welcome challenge and has been with the team for eight months after finishing a tough selection and training regimen.
Ryan calls flying with the Thunderbirds “an awesome feeling,” especially when it comes to putting on demonstrations for the current generation of youngsters who could someday be Air Force pilots themselves.
To honor those who have lost their lives in the war on terror, the Thunderbirds will be honoring a local soldier who lost his life serving his country.
For this show, it will be Army Sgt. Martin L. La Mar of Sacramento, who was killed Jan. 15 in Mosul, Iraq, when an Iraqi soldier he was training turned on him and another soldier, killing them both.
“The family will be coming for the show,” Ryan said. “It will be very special.”
On the way to Travis, the eight-aircraft formation topped off their tanks somewhere over Utah, taking on fuel from a Travis KC-10 Extender Air Tanker that had just finished practicing aerial refueling with a C-17.
Boom operator Senior Airman David Pingleton set up his small video camera on his boom console to film the refueling for posterity.
“I have been doing this for three years and I love it,” Pingleton said of his work passing fuel from the KC-10 to American and coalition aircraft that range from the Thunderbirds to C-5 jet transports.
As one of the Thunderbirds nosed up to the refueling boom, the other seven cruised off each wing of the KC-10, waiting their turn.
Aside from the “wow” factor of refueling one of the nation’s premiere aerial demonstration team, Pingleton described the mission as another refueling under “really smooth” weather conditions.
For more information about the Travis air show Saturday and Sunday, go online to http://www.travisairexpo.com.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected]