Adults love them too, but air shows are really special for the kids -- the chance to dream of soaring through the air faster than the speed of sound or performing aerobatics. For two southwest Missouri kids who grew up as self-proclaimed air show fans and "airplane geeks," that dream has come true.
Adults love them too, but air shows are really special for the kids -- the chance to dream of soaring through the air faster than the speed of sound or performing aerobatics.
For two southwest Missouri kids who grew up as self-proclaimed air show fans and "airplane geeks," that dream has come true.
Lt. Robert Heater, 31, Joplin, call sign Flamer, now flies with the U.S. Navy's West Coast Demonstration Team, flying the F/A-18E or F Super Hornet fighter-bomber at air shows across the country.
Capt. Sam Joplin, 31, West Plains, call-sign Nuke, does the same thing with the U.S. Tactical Fighter Demonstration Team, flying the F-15C Eagle air superiority fighter.
Both are graduates of the University of Missouri and both graduated from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Mizzou; Heater in the Navy and Joplin in the Air Force.
The two first met each other in May at the air show in Fort Smith, Ark. This past Saturday and Sunday, the two pilots teamed up with civilian aerobatic flyers and the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team to thrill crowds of more than 100,000 at Kansas City's Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport at the Kansas City Aviation Expo.
Heater, a 1993 Joplin High School grad and former student at Missouri Southern State University, grew up a fan of air shows. He even attended Joplin Airfest 2002 at the Joplin Regional Airport a show that featured an F/A-18E from VFA-122, based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., on static display on the ground at the airport.
Now Heater is flying for that same squadron and flying the same kind of airplane across the country showing kids and adults alike what that airplane will do.
"The Navy has demonstration teams pretty much for the public, to show the taxpayers what they're paying for," Heater said. "It helps the recruiting angle out as well. Plus it's just kind of cool to watch this kind of thing. You don't get to see it every day."
Heater has been a navy pilot for eight and a half years. He has more than 300 traps, or landings, aboard Navy aircraft carriers, including several aboard the carrier named for a baby born 25 miles north of Heater's Joplin home in Lamar who grew up to become president, the USS Harry Truman.
Heater said he feels really lucky to be flying at air shows after watching them as a kid.
"It's surreal, it's very surreal," Heater said. "It probably won't hit me until I'm done flying air shows, but it's very surreal and very cool as well."
Joplin also has been flying for eight and a half years. He also graduated from Mizzou and went straight to pilot training.
Both Joplin and Heater will fly for their respective demonstration teams for a year, then rotate back to normal duties.
"We're a public relations tool, we're here to be the visible arm of the Air Force," Joplin said. "I want to show the public here in Kansas City I'm just a 31-year-old Mizzou grad out here doing this. We're your sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. And finally we're here to show off the professionalism of our own people.
"I've got four maintenance professionals with me right now, enlisted maintainers. They were up until 10 o'clock last night working on a broken part of the jet and I'll fly that jet today with no reservations. It's 100 percent mission capable because of the outstanding work those guys do. They are amazing, they are incredibly professional and incredibly skilled, and so the public gets to look at the team we have."