Air Fest brings more than spectators to MacDill
by Staff Sgt. Victoria Meyer
Maj. Brian Burns said he believes he has the greatest job in the Air Force. He gets to travel around the country, is treated like a celebrity, the crowds flock to him and almost every little child who meets him wants to be just like him. He is a pilot for the famous U.S. Air Force demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds were the featured performer at MacDill's Air Fest 2005 Saturday and Sunday.
The demonstration team started out at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., in 1953 flying the straight wing F-84G Thunderjet. Several jets later, and with slight modifications, the F-16 Fighting Falcon has remained the jet of choice for the Thunderbirds for the last 20 years.
Major Burns, who flies the No. 3 jet as the right wingman in the Diamond Formation, said the MacDill Air Fest is one of the biggest shows of the year for the Thunderbirds.
However, no matter how big the crowd is, he truly enjoys meeting the spectators.
"They just can't wait to tell someone in the military how proud they are and to keep up the good work," Major Burns said. "It is humbling for us because we aren't out there fighting the war … we are flying in air shows. It is part of the overall mission of the military, but we aren't out there putting our lives on the line."
He said all they can do is thank them for supporting their military and pass on the thanks to the servicemembers in the field.
Another aspect of being on the Thunderbird team is some celebrity treatment. After almost every show the pilots have an autograph session.
Major Burns said he was a little taken back by enthusiasm of the fans at his first show.
"I just fly the plane," he recalled thinking to himself as the crowd rushed to get autographs. "I have been doing this (flying F-16s) for the past 10 years."
"But it isn't me-it is the jet, the Air Force, the entire team. I just happen to be the guy out there," he said humbly.
The team's mission is to support U.S. Air Force recruiting and retention programs and to reinforce public confidence in the U.S. Air Force and demonstrate to the public the professional competence of Air Force professionals.
"We can't go drop bombs on the infield to show people the real war-time capabilities. But what we can do is show the pride and professionalism of all the people out here and the max capabilities of one of the front-line fighters that we have," Major Burns said.
Dave Anderson, of Clearwater, has been to the MacDill Air Fest three times and other air shows too many times to count.
"I think most people are impressed by the brut force power of the jet. Especially when they kick in the afterburner," Mr. Anderson said.
"It is really an awesome show," his wife Linda added.
Visitors to the Air Fest not only saw the Air Force Thunderbirds, but were able to check out several aircraft currently used by the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines.
An estimated crowd of 350,000 people came out over the weekend to enjoy the show.