JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Peaking out behind white fluffy clouds, the sun shone down on the crowd of excited beachgoers enjoying the strong breeze rippling across the ocean waves. Heads began to turn and eyes searched the horizon as the sound of four turbofan jet engines could be heard over the crashing of the wind-churned sea. Amidst nudging elbows and fingers pointing, the 174-foot C-17 Globemaster III came into view and roared above the spectators down below.
The 62nd Airlift Wing’s (AW) C-17 West Coast Demo (demonstration) Team showcased their skills and the aircraft’s capabilities in the 2020 Fort Lauderdale Air Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nov. 21-22. The air show was held on Fort Lauderdale Beach and featured demonstration acts from all four U.S. Air Force fighter jet demo teams and a few civilian acts.
“I think it’s great the wing participates in stuff like this, and it’s important for the Air Force,” said Maj. Nicholas Coblio, C-17 West Coast Demo Team lead pilot and 62nd Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division deputy chief. “It’s a great recruiting tool and a great representation of the C-17, for our wing and, really, Air Mobility Command (AMC) as a whole.”
The demo team flew both days of the air show and highlighted the U.S. Air Force’s newest, most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force. The C-17 is capable of rapid strategic delivery of troops and all types of cargo, can perform tactical airlift and airdrop missions and can transport litters and ambulatory patients during aeromedical evacuations when required.
“I hope the audience gained or reinforced their sense of admiration for our tactical airlift capabilities,” said Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Finley, C-17 West Coast Demo Team loadmaster and 4th Airlift Squadron C-17 evaluator loadmaster. “The team has been one of the most rewarding missions I have been part of since joining the Air Force. On an interpersonal level, I think it bridges the gap between the hard work we do overseas and the people we do it for at home.”
The day before the show, the C-17 demo team flew in formation with the F-16 Viper, F-22 Raptor, F-35A Lightning II and A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter jet demonstration teams during their practice flight. The demo team put the C-17 to the test and practiced evasive maneuvers with the fighter jets.
“The air show went really well,” Coblio said. “I think this one was the best all season. The shows in general all had things that were great, but this was awesome just because of the formation flight we were able to do.”
The demo team members said it’s important for heavy platforms, or cargo aircraft, to be involved in air shows as much as fighters.
“For AMC and McChord to have a hand in that mission is critical,” Finley said. “When civilians think of the Air Force, they automatically think of fighter aircraft. Nevertheless, when we go to these air shows we often get feedback stating the C-17’s extensive airlift capability is the more inspiring asset in the show. We must get out in the public eye to recruit and inspire the next generation of aviators.”
This year the demo team was greatly affected by COVID-19. They had to cancel all 16 shows planned for the season. However, they were able to piece together a new schedule from events that were using different techniques to mitigate spreading the virus.
“My favorite demo this year was the Thunder Over Cedar Creek Lake Airshow (Mabank, Texas),” Finley said. “It was the first sanctioned show of the year and went to great lengths to ensure safe social distancing for the spectators. It was also live streamed on social media, which allowed us to showcase our profile to a broader range of people. COVID-19 heightened the energy of the show as people flocked the air show after being quarantined for several months."
The Fort Lauderdale Air Show was the last in the demo team’s six-show season, a bittersweet ending since some of the team won’t be joining them next year. However, the remaining members all are ready to get started on the new season in the coming year.
“It’s been a busy season so it will be nice to recover and regroup, then we can start training for next year,” Coblio said. “We’re building on what was started last year, and hopefully, next year will be even bigger than this one. It was a great season; we had a lot fun and it just feels good.”