Pilots will push jets to their limits at Westmoreland Airshow

When Air Force pilot Captain Aimee Fiedler takes to the skies this weekend over Westmoreland County, she’ll be 100% on her game.

Sitting behind the controls of an F-16 Viper soaring above thousands of spectators at the Shop ‘n Save Westmoreland Airshow, Fiedler will ensure she executes maneuvers at the correct altitude and speed while communicating with his ground crew.

“It’s a bit like playing sports. You don’t really think about what you’re doing; it becomes more instinctive,” said Fiedler, a Texas native whose call name is “Rebel.”

She will pull out of the air show crowds up to 45 minutes early to prepare.

“It’s very exhausting work mentally and physically,” she says. “I have to make sure I take care of myself (with) nutrition, hydration and mentally too.”

Saturday and Sunday’s air show will feature high-powered performances with Air Force and Navy fighter jets, as well as vintage warplanes, aerobatics and more aerial and ground exposures. Doors open at 10 a.m. each day.

During Fiedler’s 15-hour demonstration each day, the jet will reach speeds of around 800 mph.

“I fly the jet to its limits, so it shows you how versatile and maneuverable the F-16 is, not necessarily how tactical the F-16 is,” she said.

The Navy’s Super Hornet

Naval aviator Lt. Jordan Suazo said the F-18 Super Hornet demonstration around 1:45 p.m. each day will feature top speeds as well as his favorite: how quickly the plane can turn around. The F-18 is the same type of aircraft used in “Top Gun: Maverick,” a sequel released last month to the 1980s action movie starring Tom Cruise.

“It’s a thrill, really. And sometimes when I’m out of the cockpit for like a week, I snap back into place – it’s gone,” he said with a smile. “You have to have your game face on, but it’s an absolute blast.”

Meeting spectators is an added benefit at work. Suazo, whose call name is “Peach,” said he attended air shows as a child in the San Diego area, which played a role in his ultimate career.

“In my mind, I was still joining the Navy and wanted to fly off aircraft carriers,” he said.

Both jets will be paired with their vintage predecessors for special flights after their respective demonstrations. The Air Force F-16 will be joined in the air by a P-51 Mustang, a World War II fighter jet, for the USAF Heritage Flight.

Fiedler said the flight was meaningful to her.

“It’s very emotional for a fighter pilot to be able to fly alongside something we’ve never heard of,” she said. “It’s a huge honor and a huge privilege to see where we started versus where we are now.”

The Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet will be joined on the USN Legacy Flight by an F4U Corsair, another World War II aircraft.

It’s important to preserve the history that accompanies warbirds to show how the nation’s air defense has changed, said Jersey Jerks pilot Kevin Russo. His T-6, with 3,000 flight hours, was built in 1944 and spent some time in museums before becoming a private owner.

“I’m going to do an aerobatic routine and then we also have a training routine that we do,” he said.

Opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. All activities are subject to weather and flight conditions.

The event ends each day at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or $15 in advance at Shop ‘n Save stores. Children 10 and under are admitted free. Parking is $5 to benefit the local fire department. For more details, visit palmerairport.com/airshow.

Renatta Signorini is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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