MIAMI BEACH, Florida -- The roar of four turbofan engines fills the cargo bay and flight deck of a C-17 Globemaster III while it flies about 1,500 feet in the warm, clear skies above Miami Beach. Four experienced pilots are focused on staying safe while conducting an aerial demonstration for their audience on the sand and in the water below them, but it is not hard to do in an aircraft like the C-17.
The C-17 West Coast Demo Team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, traveled to Miami Beach, Florida, for the National Salute to America’s Heroes Hyundai Air and Sea Show, May 28 to 30, making it their fourth air show of the year, with another 12 lined up for the rest of 2021.
“It’s fun for us to get to show the general public that there are aircraft capabilities beyond just what the fighters can do,” said Maj. Nick Coblio, C-17 West Coast Demo Team lead pilot and 62nd Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division deputy chief. “One of the most common responses we get from people at the shows is, ‘I had no idea the C-17 could do what you guys do with it.’”
Participating in an air show presents a different mission set than most C-17 pilots will experience. For a demonstration, pilots are not training for tactical approaches or turbulent low-levels, but they are holding themselves to more specific standards.
“If your bank angle is supposed to be 45 degrees, you maintain exactly 45 degrees; and if you’re off by a degree, the other pilots are going to call you out for that,” Coblio said. “I think the precision that we fly with on the demo team is a lot different.”
Whether the aircraft is banking, reverse taxiing or conducting airdrop, there is a lot more attention from Air Mobility Command as well as media and spectators on a demonstration for the public than an average mission.
There were roughly 100,000 people on Miami Beach for both days of the show. At an air show earlier in the year, there was an estimated 225,000 attendees, with nearly 3 million views on the livestream of that show.
“I think the general public enjoys it as much, if not more, than we do,” said Maj. Mack Delgado, C-17 West Coast Demo Team pilot and 4th Airlift Squadron chief of tactics. “Providing the public with the ability to see what the aircraft is capable of, and not only that, but getting to interact with and meet so many people who are passionate about aviation makes [what the demo team does] very important.”
The C-17 demo team was established in 2019 by Lt. Col. Jack Vetas, former C-17 West Coast Demo Team lead pilot and 62nd Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division deputy chief, and Coblio, who would take his place. Currently, nine pilots and six loadmasters make up the team, which travels all over the country as well as internationally.
Being on the demo team is an additional duty for all of them, but for most, the extra training and long weekends are well worth it.
“I remember getting asked if this was something I was interested in and my response was, ‘Absolutely,’” Delgado said. “I’ve loved every second of it.”
The demo team serves as an opportunity for community engagement as well as a retention and recruitment tool for the Air Force.
“I think that it’s a lot of fun doing what we do,” Coblio said. “It gives us the opportunity to reward some of the more experienced instructor pilots and loadmasters here to incentivize them to stick around.”
There is no shortage of interest in the team, from air show organizers to pilots and spectators alike. The C-17 West Coast Demo Team is always ready to put on a show.
Here is the C-17 West Coast Demo Team’s upcoming 2021 schedule.
- July 3-4: Gig Harbor/Tacoma, WA
- July 2-4: Cedar Creek Lake, Texas
- July 10-11: Dayton, Ohio
- August 21-22: Chicago, Illinois
- August 28-29: London, Ontario, Canada
- September 22-25: Mexico City, Mexico
- October 2-3: Ceiba, Puerto Rico
- October 9-10: Houston, Texas
- October 23-24: Fort Worth, Texas
- October 30-31: Rome, Georgia
- November 6-7: Tuscon, Arizona
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