F-16 Viper Demonstration Team prepares for upcoming season

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As preparations begin across the globe for the 2017 air show season, an elite team of Airmen assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina are hard at work getting ready for their new year debut.

The F-16 Viper Demonstration Team is one of three single aircraft performance teams in the Air Force preparing for the season by training and certifying new maintainers and the new demo pilot.

“Every two years a new demo pilot is picked and put through intense training to ensure they are ready and capable of performing the intense demo,” said Master Sgt. Richard Hall, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team superintendent and show narrator. “During each demo the pilot will pull up to nine times the force of gravity, or nine G, about 14 times, so it takes a lot of practice to be able to do it consistently.”

Part of the selection process includes four certification flights approved by the 20th Operations Group commander, 20th Fighter Wing commander, 9th Air Force commander, and Air Combat Command commander.

The new pilot for the team is Capt. John “Rain” Waters from Peachtree City, Georgia. Waters is a veteran pilot with more than 2,500 hours in a military aircraft and 180 combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve.

Waters is taking over from Maj. Craig “Rocket” Baker, the former F-16 Viper Demonstration Team pilot, who started with the team in 2015 following the shutdown of all single ship demonstration teams in 2012

“The certification is important because it gives us the validation that we know what we’re doing and that we have the best Airmen on the team as possible to go out and to represent the Air Force,” said Waters.

According to the Air Force Recruiting Service, 20 years ago 47 percent of children could name someone they knew who served in the military, today only 16 percent of children are able to do that, and the Viper Demo Team is hoping to increase that number.

“The most rewarding part of the job is being able to go to the schools and to interact with the public and show them what the Air Force can do,” said Hall. “There is a large part of the population that doesn’t know about the military, and it’s our job to go out there and share our experiences.”

Fulfilling the teams mission of inspire the future generation of pilots and maintainers by demonstrating the combat capabilities of the F-16, the demo team, performs approximately 21 air shows a year across the United States and Canada.

The F-16 is the Air Forces premier multi-role fighter aircraft capable of flying up to twice the speed of sound. Its General Electric F-129 engine can produce up to 27,000 pounds of thrust.

Following the certification process, the demo team is scheduled to go to the Heritage Flight Conference at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where Waters will be certified to fly alongside World War II and Vietnam era aircraft, known as a heritage flight.

“Knowing that I can be a part of a team that can function at a high level,” said Waters, “learn through adversity, and ultimately excel is inspiring and humbling to be a part of.”

In 2016, air shows were considered the number one recruiting asset for the Air Force, and by having highly dedicated and motivated Airmen on these teams to spread their knowledge, the Air Force will be able to stay as the world’s most dominant power in air, space, and cyberspace.