F-16 Fighting Falcon News

The making of a demonstration pilot

August 2, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Cuban 8, Triple, Knife Edge. High G Turn. It's all in a day's work for Capt. Chris Schneider, Pacific Air Forces' new F-16 demonstration pilot.
After three months and 17 sorties, progressing from a student in the back seat of an F-16 D-model to flying solo, Schneider passed his last test on Thursday: performing 11 maneuvers in front of Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, 5th Air Force and U.S. Forces Japan commander.

A few things were slightly off during the 12- to 15-minute show. "One of my points was about 5 degrees off," Schneider said. "He noticed that ... there's still room for improvement."

But Wright certified Schneider and his 10-member support team, which includes pilot-rated safety observers, crew chiefs, engine specialists, avionics technicians, an electrician and a maintenance superintendent.

Group members will perform at their first air show together Aug. 7 at Chitose Air Base near Sapporo. Schneider, a 14th Fighter Squadron pilot, replaced Capt. Keith Rockow.

"It's awesome, it feels good," Schneider said Thursday afternoon. "It's somewhat of a big relief."

The team typically performs 10 to 15 shows a year throughout the Pacific, including in Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and throughout Japan. The pilot and maintainers typically rotate every two years and compete for the slots through an interview process, letters of recommendation and job-performance evaluations.

Schneider gave it a shot because "I love the Air Force and getting the opportunity to just go out and represent PACAF - even the United States Air Force - all over the Pacific, I thought was an awesome idea," he said.

It's high-flying acrobatics and public relations rolled into one. "The most intimidating part is you're representing everyone in PACAF, so you want to be as perfect as you can," he said.

For Staff Sgt. Richard Connell, a dedicated crew chief, and Tech. Sgt. Estefanie Wanous, lead avionics technician, joining the team presented an opportunity to travel and make a difference, they said.

It also means extra duty. Unlike the demonstration teams in the States, which put on about 40 shows a year, working on the PACAF team is collateral duty.

"It's not the only thing we do," Schneider said. "Here we still do our regular flying and the maintainers are part of the maintenance group."

The maintainers pack out their own gear and equipment, putting in 12-plus hours the day before an air show ensuring the jet is shiny clean and ready to roll.

"There's more eyes on you and you have to be perfect at all times," Wanous said.

Misawa has hosted the PACAF demonstration team since the late 1990s, after it was moved from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

Schneider has to practice about every 15 days to keep his certification current.

The team is scheduled to perform Sept. 4 at the Misawa Air Festival.

Published on August 01, 2005 in the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes. Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DOD publication. © 2005 Stars and Stripes.

Additional info:

The Pacific Air Forces F-16 Demo Team is one of three single-ship F-16 demonstration teams in the US Air Force.

The team is composed of fourteen volunteers who are handpicked annually from members of the 35th Fighter Wing for their performance and professionalism. The team includes a demonstration pilot, two narrators who are also pilots, four crew chiefs, two avionics specialists, two electrical specialists, two engine specialists, and a maintenance superintendent.

All team members are assigned to the Fightin' Samurai of the 14th Fighter Squadron. Membership is considered an additional duty, and team members perform their full-time duties in the squadron when they are not performing demonstration practices, maintaining the aircraft, or traveling to support demonstrations throughout the Pacific.