May 5, 2010 (by A1C Daniel Phelps) - Captain Ryan "Rider" Corrigan is the F-16 Viper East Demo Team pilot. Before the Thunderbirds fly, he will be performing at ShawFest this weekend.
The 2010 Viper East F-16 Demonstration Team posing for a team photo on January 13th, 2010. [USAF photo]
Captain Corrigan admits, flying in air shows has always been an interest of his. "I grew up around air shows. My uncle was a Thunderbird pilot in '85 and '86," he said.
He works with Master Sgt. Jeffery Vernon, Viper East team chief, and Tech. Sgt. John Coleman, assistant team chief, showcasing the F-16's capabilities. His team has been coordinating with Lt. Col. Danny Palubeckis, the air show director, and Dan Tindall, the air show director of operations, for the past several months to put together the Viper East performance for ShawFest.
"It's really important, especially when you're at home in front of all the other maintainers and pilots to show them what your team does when they're on the road," said Captain Corrigan.
His team has been working every day to square away all the little details before the air show, he added. They help take the heat off of him by taking care of the logistics aspects, so he can concentrate on flying the aircraft safely.
"The reason I have the ability to focus on just flying is because I have two dedicated guys here that handle the details," he remarked. "They keep me informed as to what I can expect at each air show. A lot times things arise that might approach the non-standard or different aspect. When that happens, they'll bring it up to me, and I'll get involved with it."
There are several different elements they look at when they plan their demonstrations, Captain Corrigan pointed out.
"For ShawFest, one of the things that is very important to me for leading this team is the ground show," he said. "We have to be visible to the public. My job, and the mandate of this team, is to showcase the aircraft, our people and our Air Force."
One of his priorities is to show how sharp the crew chiefs look launching and recovering the plane, the pilot remarked. He does this by ensuring that the plane has a place to park where the crowd can see.
Another thing they look at is the schedule for the demo, he noted. Even being aware of the time of day and who's performing before and after them are important things they take into consideration.
"For example, what if someone is flying in their act and their narrator is talking to the crowd while I'm starting my jet engine up?" he asked. "Is the noise from my motor drowning out and degrading their performance?"
Crowd safety is their number one priority, the captain remarked. Things such as where the crowd lines and spectators are located are also very important, from both a maintenance and pilot stand point. The demo team ensures safety by keeping their equipment a safe distance away from crowds and by not flying directly over the audience.
When flying, he makes sure that he performs his maneuvers so the plane can be kept away from the crowd if there were an aircraft malfunction, said Captain Corrigan.
"You've got to plan for all that stuff," he continued. "No air show is worth the safety of the people on the ground, the safety of the aircraft or my safety, or the safety of the team."
He likes to note that his jet is combat capable. "Give me a couple hours to hang a couple tanks and some munitions and send it down to the flight line. They're ready to go and pitch into the fight," Captain Corrigan added.
He looks at several different aspects when deciding how to do his performance, pointed out Captain Corrigan. Number one is the show environment: the weather, the wind, the time of day and how long the runway is.
To help ensure all worst-case scenarios are covered, the team needs to know where the closest diverting base is, he added.
Another important factor the pilot considers when flying is how he is feeling on that particular day, said Captain Corrigan.
"Some days you feel like you can go out there and crush it, and other days you'll need to be a little more conservative with the repositions back toward the show line," he continued. "All of those little things you have to think about."
Captain Corrigan described the importance of preparing mentally before every show: "As a technique, about two hours prior to flying I'll go find a place to sit down and brief it up with myself, think through the routine, and get into my little 'tactical bubble.' Mental preparation is important."
Captain Corrigan recommends that everyone come out to ShawFest this year, "There's not a better place to come see an air show. You've got a wide open viewing area, lots of flight line access. People are just going to be able to get a phenomenal view of all these aircraft and performers that come in. Pyrotechnics, tactical joint-combo action and F-16s, these are all rare things. Plus, very rarely do you get all that topped off by the Thunderbirds. If you like airplanes, you need to be (at) this one."