December 11, 2008 (by 1st Lt. Beth Woodward) - After spending nearly 200 days on the road in 2008, Air Combat Command's West Coast F-16 Demonstration Team, known as Viper West, is shifting gears to prepare for next year's season with a new pilot and maintainers.
Maj. David "Booster" Graham, commander and pilot; Tech. Sgt. Kerry Clark, team chief; Staff Sgt. Kelly Birchmier; Staff Sgt. David Gill; Senior Airman John Whitlock and Airman 1st Class Andrew Dugger joined the ranks of the 10-person team in August.
"Our main focus this year is putting on a good, safe show," said Maj. Graham, who certified his aerial demonstration with the 388th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Scott Dennis, at Hill Air Force Base on Nov. 21. "We want to make sure we represent the Air Force well with a professional team."
Viper West, which stages out of Hill's 4th Fighter Squadron, is one of six single-ship demonstration teams in ACC
. The team's combat capability performance shows what the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Air Force bring to today's fight.
With 27,000 pounds of thrust and a top speed of Mach 2, the aircraft's power, maneuverability and precision are apparent in the demonstration. "We have fans all over the world who follow Viper West and really enjoy the single-ship demos because they are so in-your-face and loud," said Master Sgt. Jeffrey Anderson, team chief in his second season with Viper West.
During the winter months, Viper West Airmen practice their ground and air shows locally in preparation for headquarters certification. From spring to fall, the team represents the Air Force at as many as 30 air shows, including international events in South America, Europe and Canada.
"One of our goals is to make the team better than we found it," Anderson said. "I think a topnotch demo shows the pride all members of the armed forces take in their careers when given the right resources."
Viper West Airmen are chosen after a competitive records review and interview. Several apply for the team because of the influence military demonstration teams had on them at a young age.
"I've been around air shows all of my life," said Maj. Graham, who grew interested in the Air Force and the F-16 after seeing an ACC, single-ship demonstration. "It's been a goal of mine to apply for this job and have an impact on kids around the country."
During an air show season, the team's mission includes building public trust in the Air Force, demonstrating professionalism, increasing morale among service members, and promoting Air Force recruiting and retention programs.
"I specifically joined the Air Force to work on fighters, and it is really fun to think there are people out there making choices based on the presentation we give, whether at an air show, high school or just talking at a gas station," Anderson said. "Without question, this is the best job in the Air Force."
Additional members of the 2009 Viper West team include Staff Sgt. Jared Carter, Staff Sgt. Travis Garren and Senior Airman Keith Schiesz.