Butterflies, goosebumps and adrenaline at the 2018 Beale Air & Space Expo | TheUnion.com

Butterflies, goosebumps and adrenaline at the 2018 Beale Air & Space Expo

Rachel Rosenbaum
Special to The Union

Commander Loco Lopez is living his childhood dream, traveling faster than the speed of sound.

As a kid living in Virginia Beach, Virginia, near the naval station, he set his sights on the jets flying overhead and knew he would one day become a fighter pilot.

"That's what inspired me," Lopez said. "I wondered, 'what would that be like, what would that feel like?'"

On Saturday, as part of the 2018 Beale Air & Space Expo, Lopez took the F-22 Raptor fighter jet 6,000 feet up and wowed a crowd of thousands. And though he's been in the Air Force for 14 years, he said he still experiences butterflies, goosebumps and adrenaline.

"The flying is amazing, exceptional," he said.

Lopez came from a demonstration in Chile, and in the coming months he is scheduled to appear at air shows in New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, New York, Idaho, Alaska and Canada. He said each show is an opportunity for the community to interact with and support airmen, and vice-versa.

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"Each community is different," he said. "We get to share our story."

The fighter jet Lopez pilots is one of the most unique aircraft in the world, he said. It flies faster than the speed of sound without the use of an after-burner, has a high angle of attack, can perform difficult tail slides and has enhanced maneuverability.

From learning how to fly training jets to performing in one of the most impressive jets, Lopez likened it to riding a bicycle with training wheels to riding solo; or being in high school and going through the steps of college before becoming a professional in the workforce.

He said he still feels adrenaline and nerves when flying these high-powered, multi-million dollar stealth aircraft.

"It's pure exhilaration," Lopez said.

Lynn Kennedy has been coming to air shows for years, and brought her friend Charles Spear to Beale Air Force Base for his first time. She said she was excited to see "anything and everything," but especially the U-2 Dragon Lady.

The model airplane enthusiast said the air show is special to her, and she's happy to see more people represented in the Air Force.

"I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, but there weren't many opportunities for women," Kennedy said. "I think it's a wonderful field for women."

Trevor Story celebrated his eighth birthday at the air show, and while he was happy to pose by the U-2 Dragon Lady, he was especially taken with a cargo plane from Travis Air Force Base, because Travis is his father's name.

"I'm super excited to see the planes," Story said. "I saw the Blue Angels pass by when I was 3."

Matt Eager has been an Air Force pilot for two years and works for the 940th Air Refueling Wing at Beale. Before that, he worked for two years as a civilian airline pilot and taught at a college. His current assignment is special because he gets to be near family — he's an Oregon House native.

The refueling assignment is self-explanatory, he said, but the aircraft can also carry cargo, passengers and support medical evacuations. He said some of the local refueling aircraft have traveled to Tibet and Indonesia in recent years for natural disasters and other humanitarian work.

He said in a few months he hopes to be an official copilot, and move up to an official solo military pilot after a few years. While he is a professional pilot, he's still learning local procedures and said he attends continuous training.

"It's a chance to give back and be part of something bigger than myself," Eager said.

Rachel Rosenbaum is a reporter for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. Contact her at rrosenbaum@appealdemocrat.com.