Major Paul “Loco” Lopez II: An Interview With The Raptor Demonstration Pilot and Team Commander

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The call sign Loco is about to join those of Dozer, Max, Zeke, Schadow, Taboo and Rock as former F-22 Raptor Demonstration pilots.

Major Paul ‘Loco’ Lopez II has always been a friend to the airshow community. I had the good fortune to meet ‘Loco’ at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst airshow before he became the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team Pilot.  He was there handling questions about the F-22 Raptor which was on static display for the airshow. As we ended our conversation on that day, I mentioned that I would be here on departure day and asked if he could perform a low transition to a max climb out for the photographers that will be present. He said yea, I can request to do that. On Monday when he rolled out and despite a long hold by the New York Center to do the unlimited climb to ten thousand feet he did it for us.

Major Lopez is the current ACC F-22 Team Commander. He is responsible for the team members and aircraft representing the Air Combat Command (ACC), the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Department of Defense (DoD) at more than 20 airshows and events annually. 

He leads the 18-member F-22 Demonstration Team, oversees maintenance actions performed on one of the most advanced fighter jets ever built. Major Lopez showcases the Raptor’s exceptional maneuverability for more than 10 million spectators around the world each year. He is an operational F-22 pilot assigned to the 1st Operations Group within the 1st Fighter Wing. 

Major Lopez is a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia. After graduating from Salem High School, he attended college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T SU) in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 2004, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and earned his commission through the NC A&T SU Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

Major Lopez trained to become a pilot in the T-6 Texan II and the T-38C Talon and earning his pilot wings in 2006. Following his pilot training, Major Lopez completed Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, flying the AT-38C Talon at Moody AFB prior to attending the F-15C Eagle Basic Course at Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida in 2007. Upon graduation, Major Lopez was assigned to the 71st Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia as an operational fighter pilot. 

Major Lopez attended the F-22 Raptor transition course in January 2011 at Tyndall AFB. Upon completion, he flew F-22 Raptors in the 27th Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB until October
2012. Major Lopez then moved to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska and flew Raptors there from November 2012 to January 2016. Following the Alaska assignment, Major Lopez moved back to Langley AFB in January 2016 and served as the Chief of Flight Safety for the 1st Fighter Wing. 

While assigned to the 1st FW, he was selected to be the Air Combat Command F-22 Raptor Demonstration Pilot. Maj. Lopez is an experienced Fighter Pilot with over 1,500 fighter hours flying the F-15 and F-22. 

Major Lopez recently took the time at the Thunder Over Dover airshow to look back at his time as the F-22 Raptor Demo Pilot. 

Photorecon, You recently were an added surprise to a flyover of New York City on Thursday August 22, 2019 with the Royal Air Force Red Arrows , the United States Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the F-35 demonstration Team. What was that experience like?

Major Lopez, It was humbling to fly with our foreign partners in the Red Arrows and also fly with our fifth gen counterparts with the F-35 demo team. Another cool aspect of that flight was that we have a British Foreign exchange officer flying F-22’s at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Virginia, and he was my wingman. So if you look at that photo behind the Red Arrows he is in the F-22 Raptor on the right side of the formation. 

Photorecon, The U.S. Navy Blue Angels were originally to take part in this flyover and had to cancel. So it came as a complete surprise to those of us on the ground that the F-22’s were taking part in this flyover. How quickly did this come together? 

Major Lopez, It’s just a testament to our leadership having confidence in our ability to be professional pilots and not doing anything crazy or outlandish. We found out about that probably within a couple of days prior to that event happening. We saw it as a great opportunity to get the team , the Air Force and the Raptor out there and to be a part of this legendary and historic formation. We saw it as an opportunity that is only going to help us in recruiting and retaining airmen. 

Photorecon, I would imagine that one of the perks of being a performer at an airshow is the ride alongs. 

Major Lopez, One of the cool things about being part of the airshow family is that you get a chance to not only interact with your fellow performers but then also see them demonstrate their trade. This year I have flown in the backseat of an F-16 with the Thunderbirds and the back of an F-18 with the Blue Angels. I’ve flown with other performers as well to just try and increase my depth and breadth of the world of aviation. Everyone is very warm and accommodating in trying to teach you and show you what they can do.  

Photorecon, Here at Dover Air Force Base, you are scheduled to perform a rare night show with the F-22 Raptor for the DoD families and guests. How will that performance differ from the other profiles you fly?

Major Lopez, It is only going to differ by the time of day. Usually with the demo we have a high show and low show performance. That helps keep things the same for the demonstration pilot, because the location can change and be over water, or land at a staged location. As long as you are doing the same routine it keeps things constant and the flying consistent. So other than being a different time of day it will be the same type of demonstration. 

Photorecon, Could you give us an update on the F-22 community at Tyndall Air Force Base? 

Major Lopez, Right now training is still going on. They’re still working on training the next generation of F-22 Raptor pilots, as well a couple of people who are coming back to the Raptor community. It seems like all things are a go down there and they are actually flying out of Eglin Air Force Base for now. 

 

Photorecon, As the Air Force continues to give life extensions to their different airframes, where do you see the F-22 in another decade or two? Do you see the F-22 in type 1000 storage like the F-117 or will they have evolved into a F-22 Super Raptor?

Major Lopez, I’m not sure what the plans are for the future. I know that right now we are getting upgrades to different components on the jet. We have to keep up with the technology and what is going on out there.

Photorecon, Do we know who your replacement is going to be on the F-22 Demonstration Team?

Major Lopez, Well, they have already hired my successor for the next F-22 Raptor demonstration pilot. I’m definitely excited for the team and that person who will be a great part and commander of the team.

Photorecon, What is next for Major Paul ‘Loco’ Lopez?

Major Lopez, Well that is based on the needs of the Air Force. I should be getting that assignment soon. 

Photorecon, Do you think you will remain a part of the Raptor Nation?

Major Lopez, I hope so! I love flying fighter jets and I would love to be teaching the next generation of airmen how to fly the Raptor in combat.  

Photorecon, Here at Dover you are the featured headliner. You have performed at approximately fifty-three show sites over the past two years. After this weekend you have five more performance weekends left. In all the of interviews and all of the handshakes and smiles you have given, what is the one thing nobody has ever asked you that you wanted to tell people? 

Major Lopez, Wow! Man that is a good question. I guess people always ask about the airplane and what it is like to fly it. I would tell people that regardless of what you want to do in life, you have get comfortable at being uncomfortable and don’t be afraid of failure and don’t be afraid of adversity. Because we all face it.

As we go to press, the F-22 Demonstration Team shared the news on October 30th, that Major Paul ‘Loco’ Lopez II has been selected by the United States Air Force for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. 

I would like to personally wish Lt. Colonel Paul ‘Loco’ Lopez II continued success and a gratifying career with the United States Air Force and beyond. He has long been a friend to those of us in the airshow community and I have personally enjoyed speaking with him both on and off the tarmac. Here’s to a job well done as the ACC F-22 Raptor Pilot!

Major Lopez’s Biography is courtesy of the United States Air Force, Air Combat Command.

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Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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