F-35A pilot Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe said any demonstration team’s goal is to recruit and inspire the population to be interested in aviation and military.

F-35A pilot Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe said any demonstration team’s goal is to recruit and inspire the population to be interested in aviation and military.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Demo teams land at Selfridge, fly in air show

By: Alex Szwarc | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published August 20, 2021


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Earlier this month, folks in Macomb County could certainly hear, and maybe even catch a glimpse, of several high-flying military aircraft.

A few U.S. military aerial demonstration teams arrived at Selfridge Air National Guard Base the afternoon of Aug. 5.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the F-35A Lightning II and Navy F-18 Growler demonstration teams came to Selfridge in support of the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show.

The show took place Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. Each day consisted of a morning show with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Air Force F-35 demo team, and an afternoon show with the Thunderbirds and Air Force A-10 demo team.

“We’re a cornerstone of Michigan communities. It’s not our air show, but we’re supporting it and have the capacity and capability to do that here at Selfridge,” 127th Wing Public Affairs Chief Phil Ulmer said.

The F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team operates out of Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Capt. Kippun Sumner, who works in public affairs for the team, said it is a single-ship team, meaning it flies one jet during an air show. Its routine takes about 15 minutes.

In a plane-side interview, F-35A pilot Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe said the maneuvers include a series of loops, air run rolls and high-performance turns. She said, in air shows, the F-35A can travel about 700 MPH.

Wolfe’s call sign is BEO, with Sumner calling her the first female demonstration team pilot for the Air Combat Command teams.

“The F-16 is a fourth-generation aircraft, where we are a fifth-generation aircraft,” Wolfe said when asked what the main differences are between the F-16 and F-35. “We have a big stealth capability against either air-to-air or air-to-ground radars. We get detected at a much closer range and can get further into enemy territory than a fourth-generation aircraft can.”

Wolfe, the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot who flew F-15s, was in the Air Force about eight years before joining the demonstration team.

“As a young Air Force pilot starting off, you get assigned to an aircraft and your goal is to be the best at that one aircraft and get combat certified,” Wolfe said. “This is a totally different job. If a spot on the team opens up, you apply, and your wing commander will conduct interviews and pick who they want to represent the team on the road.”

She noted that any demonstration team’s goal is to recruit and inspire the population to be interested in aviation and military.

The F-35A team travels to each show, about 20 a year, with about 10 personnel.

F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team crew member Joshua Peterson has been part of the team since February.

Staff Sgt. Peterson is a weapons specialist and said that, for air shows, he assists with getting the jet ready.

“We do inspections, refuels, anything like that,” he said.

Peterson said he enjoys engaging with the community while traveling around the country.

“That’s one thing I never really got to do with the Air Force prior to the demo team,” he said. “It’s cool to see how much enjoyment the community has with everything we do.”

The Thunderbirds demonstration is a mix of six aircraft performing formation flying and solo routines. The unit formed in 1953 and is based at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

Maj. Mike Bell, a Thunderbirds maintenance officer, said when he was commissioned, being part of the Thunderbirds wasn’t something he necessarily understood to be something he could aspire to.

“I had a lot of great mentors and got to interact with a lot of people who were prior Thunderbirds,” he said. “I was really impressed with how they carry themselves and the commitment, dedication and professionalism they brought to work every day.”

Bell supervises 95 maintenance and logistics Airmen who take care of the aircraft.

“I like to describe my job as, we toss the pilots the keys to the airplane an hour a day, and we’ll take care of the airplanes the other 23 hours a day,” he said.  

Last September, six F-16s, part of the Thunderbirds, landed at Selfridge in support of Airshow London in Ontario, Canada.