He grew up watching Navy fighter jets, now he's in command of the Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team
By COURTNEY MABEUS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: May 17, 2018
HAMPTON, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Growing up in Virginia Beach, Air Force Maj. Paul "Loco" Lopez, Jr. remembers the thrill he got from seeing Navy fighter jets flying over his house.
His parents bought him books on aviation and took him to air shows to encourage his growing passion, and he joined the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps at Salem High School.
"When you're at the mall, Lynnhaven Mall or Virginia Beach, you see the jets flying over for their approaches into (Naval Air Station) Oceana, that kind of instilled a passion within me, like, 'Man, that is a cool job and I want to know what that feels like,' " Lopez said.
Lopez received his Air Force commission after graduation from North Carolina A&T University and flew the F-15C before transitioning to the stealth F-22 Raptor. After being assigned to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska for the last several years, Lopez has returned home to Hampton Roads and Langley. When he climbs into the cockpit this weekend, it'll be as a pilot with the Langley Air Force Base's Air Combat Command's F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team.
Air Power Over Hampton Roads starts Friday evening at Langley and continues Saturday and Sunday. Lopez is scheduled to perform around 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday followed by the Air Force Thunderbirds around 3 p.m. The Army Golden Knights parachutists, Geico Skytypers, the Shockwave Jet Truck and several others, including classic airframes, are also scheduled, along with static displays.
For Lopez, 35, flying is like "a little kid going to the toy store," he said.
"Your adrenaline is pumping, your blood is going," Lopez said. "You've got the butterflies in your stomach, especially when you're about to do the demonstration because you're about to perform for thousands of people. It's not so much that you're looking at the crowd but you just want to make sure you're flying the best airplane possible."
Lopez couldn't quite pick out a favorite maneuver.
"The F-22 demonstration is so unique that all the maneuvers are just a blast to fly," he said. "I would say any maneuver where you can produce some vapor so you see some of that like, cloud or mist kind of form over the wings, those are pretty cool maneuvers."
Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday. A concert with a performance by R&B artist Fantasia and opening act Linkin' Bridge is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. followed by a nighttime air show, including an AT-6 Texan and fireworks.
Gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday with performances scheduled throughout each day. Country performer Trace Adkins is scheduled to perform Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
On-base parking is available through the LaSalle Gate or the Armistead (West) Gate, which will also accommodate special needs parking. General admission is free but VIP seating is available for purchase.
For more information, including a complete lineup, visit: https://www.airpoweroverhamptonroads.com/. A downloadable app is also available in the Apple and Google Play stores.
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor piloted by Maj. Paul Lopez performs a single-ship demonstration at the 2018 Power in the Pines Open House and Air Show rehearsal held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., May 4, 2018.
MATT HECHT/U.S. AIR FORCE