An Interview with “Loco”, the F-22 Demo Pilot!

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On May 11th, 2018 at MacDill AirFest I had the pleasure of interviewing Major Paul “Loco” Lopez of the Raptor Demo team. I met him two years prior at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst’s Power in the Pines air show when he was showcasing a static display. When I learned he was now the lead demo pilot I was eager to catch up. He is one of the most humble fighter pilots you will ever meet, always has a smile on his face and is eager to talk about his mission and the incredible capabilities of the F-22 Raptor.

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The aircraft are always combat ready.. are you combat ready?
Yes! I am combat ready in the sense that I am prepared to execute my job as the F-22 demo pilot and commander and work with my team to showcase American airpower at air shows across the country and around the world to help recruit and retain America’s finest personnel to join the United States Air Force.

I recently learned that unlike other demo teams, the aircraft used are not specific to the team, why is that?
So unlike the A-10 demo team or the F-16 demo team, we use the Raptor Nation concept to spread the workload out amongst the Raptor units because we only have so many airplanes. For each week there are a couple of people that swap out in the team. There are 6 other pilots on the team that are safety observers. I actually flew down commercially and these aircraft for this show are here are from Tyndall AFB from the 43rd Fighter Squadron.

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Back at Joint Base MDL Power in the Pines air show, my colleague Mike asked what you would fly if you weren’t flying the F-22 and you surprised us all. Tell us what that would be?
The SR-71 Blackbird!

Does this mean you’re ready for your astronaut wings?
If they’re offering it to me, I’ll take it! Just to be able to see the curvature of the Earth, the black of space, shooting stars… that would be phenomenal.

With the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter program and conception of 6th generation fighters, where do you see the future of the F-22?
There are a lot of different programs in place to try and sustain the life of airplanes, especially those that have a significant impact to the mission. I know with the Raptor being optimized for air to air operations as well as the ability to conduct air to ground operations, its made to fight to win. The Raptor will be around for the foreseeable future. What she brings to the fight is phenomenal – it’s such an amazing airplane.

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With all of these upgrades, how do fighter pilots process all of the information that is constantly coming at them?
So when you’re flying some of these complex modern fighters, whether it’s the Raptor, the Eagle or the F-16 just being a fighter pilot in general you re-learn how to multitask. That’s something that’s great about military training. The analogy would be something like you’re riding a bike on a boardwalk, trying to drink a milkshake while eating a French Fry, while sending a text message all while taking in the scenery! They tell you how to prioritize what you need to do: at this time you need to be eating, at this time you need to take a sip, at this time you need to be looking around, at this time you need to send out for the information that you need. You take all that information and you start building a mental model of your battle space and where you need to be with the airplane and the airspace and to accomplish the mission.

In September you’ll be returning to NAS Oceana, your hometown show. What is that like for you?
That’s going to be a very special show for me because growing up in Virginia Beach in the Tidewater area, going to air shows as a little kid with my parents and just admiring the performers and being like, ‘Wow that is so amazing what they are able to do with those airplanes and work as a team’ to now being able to showcase that in the Raptor, one of the premier fighters in the world to the crowd. It’s really going to be amazing a very humbling experience for me. My 91-year-old grandmother actually came out to McGuire to Power in the Pines, it was really cool to see her out there as well as my friends and family in that area as well.

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What final message do you have for your fans out there?

I hope everyone gets a chance to come out and see us perform and if not, support us online through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. See what the team is doing because all the skill sets that we showcase at the air shows are ones that every airman has, whether it’s a pilot, a crew chief, avionics specialists or even a photo journalist. All of us have the same training so it’s good to see when we’re out on the road someone say ‘Wow, if I join the Air Force I can do that, I can be a part of that team someday’.

Join the F-22 demo team on Facebook: ACC F-22 Raptor Demo Team Instagram: @f22.raptor.demo and Twitter:@F22Demo

Special thanks to the PA team of MacDill AFB for their hospitality. Lt. Allison Mills for setting up the time for this interview and Major Paul “Loco” Lopez and Sr. Airman Betty Chevalier of the Raptor and A-10 Demo Teams. We thank you for having us and for your service.

 

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