We met Major Paul “Loco” Lopez on home soil.
Naval Air Station Oceana (NAS Oceana) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. This longevity shows just how important this Naval Master Jet Base is to the local community and the nation as a whole. NAS Oceana celebrates this continuing achievement each year by hosting an annual air show in late September. This year the air show was held from September 21-23.
As only one of two Naval Master Jet Bases (the other being NAS Lemoore supporting the Pacific Fleet), NAS Oceana is the home to seventeen strike fighter squadrons of F/A-18C/D Hornets and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in support of East Coast operations. A Master Jet Base provides homeporting of aircraft carrier-based planes in relatively close proximity to carrier landing practice fields. In addition, NAS Oceana is home to many critical Naval Commands such as; Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic, Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, Strike Fighter Weapons School and many more.
The Super Hornet remains for the time being the backbone of the Carrier Air Wing, but will soon share that position with the incoming F-35C Lightning II. Needless to say, the Master Jet Base is the epicenter of Naval Strike Fighter Aviation. The ramps and hangars are packed with Hornets under maintenance, returning from and preparing for deployments.
As much as premier Naval Aviators shredded the sky in their Super Hornets, the USAF also made an appearance with their premiere air dominance fighter, the F-22 Raptor. This year, the Raptor’s appearance was also a homecoming for pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez, a member of the F-22 Raptor Demo Team. We know pretty much everything about the aircraft flown by Major Lopez: the Raptor is capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions and is considered “stealth” (or LO – low observable) which makes it near impossible for enemies to locate on radar. The thrust vectoring capabilities of the F-22 make for impressive maneuverability that seem to defy physics. While some have seen the Raptor firsthand in the skies over Syria, or protecting the U.S. Airspace off the coast of Alaska, the best place to see it firsthand is at an airshow. However, this time we wanted to focus a bit more on the man in the cockpit rather than the fighter itself.
Major Lopez grew up a mere five miles from NAS Oceana, and was brought up around the sounds and sights of fighter jets, rocketing through the sky. He later graduated from Salem High School, just minutes from the air station. On being back in his hometown, Major Lopez grew sentimental saying “It is very humbling, as well as overwhelming to be here right now.” In spite of being surrounded by the sounds of Tomcats and Hornets, Lopez chose a path with the Air Force. While specifics may be different, the heart and soul of a fighter pilot is one of a kind.
He is a very courageous, and considerate man – many young kids look up to him and there’s always someone stopping him for a chat. His favorite part of participating in air shows is high-fiving kids and seeing the smiles on their faces. “Our whole job is to recruit and retain, as well as inspire and build that passion for people to say ‘Wow!” Major Lopez loves encouraging kids to pursue their dreams, especially if that includes an interest in aviation. He also loves meeting up with fellow performers and connecting with the community at large.
Linda Silkwood, a resident of Virginia Beach is thoroughly supportive of our Nations fighter pilots be the Navy, Marines or Air Force. Linda was excited to see a Virginia Beach native return home, now flying the world’s most premiere jet. Regarding Major Lopez and other aviators, Linda believes in high achievement saying, “The bar is very high here for aviators, that’s what I love.”
A high bar also comes with high risks. Anyone who knows a member of the military also knows someone who died while serving his or her country. “Many make their living from government or service-related businesses,” Linda suggests. “Many here have also lost or know close friends who have lost someone.”
Major Lopez reflected on his life in Virginia Beach by stating “I remember being out here, as a little kid, coming out to this air show, as well as watching the Hornets and Tomcats flying over Oceana, the mall, and my neighborhood. I always wondered what it’d be like to be in the cockpit of a fighter jet, and here I am, living my dream, sharing this experience with others.”
Ok, if you are curious to see Maj. Lopez display at NAS Oceana, here it is: