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Bones, Eagles roar over South American skies

  • Published
  • By MSgt Jason Tudor
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
B-1 Lancer aircraft, affectionately referred to as the "Bone," and F-15E Strike Eagles roared over the skies here March 31 marking the beginning of one of the largest air and trade shows in the world and the greatest display of American aircraft in memory. The full-throttle take off began a two-week effort aimed at tightening the bonds of friendship between the Chilean Air Force, members of the community and Airmen from the United States.

And while the B-1 bomber and the F-15E Strike Eagle are only two of the sixteen aircraft participating in the FIDAE 2008 air and trade show, their presence became evident zipping through Chilean skies to spectators and show organizers as media members clamored for another photograph of the aircraft. The week-long event draws air power from across the globe, including the U.S., Russia, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Argentina and more.

Even with the showcase of U.S. Air Force aircraft on static display and flying overhead, there's more to this visit than showcasing airpower, said Col. James Russell, the director of operations at 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and officer in charge of the effort. In addition to participating in FIDAE, Col. Russell's team is completing the final preparations for the NEWEN exercise, a three-day event immediately following the air and trade show focused on refueling operations, search and rescue tactics and dissimilar aircraft maneuvers with members of the Chilean Air Force.

"This is the perfect opportunity to reaffirm our bond with the Chilean Air Force, the people of Chile and other partner nations participating in this event," the colonel said. "We're reaching out to the community with Air National Guard bandsmen, visits by dozens of Airmen to area charitable organizations and aircraft tours with local schools -- showcasing the professionalism of the men and women of the U.S. Air Force."

Already, Airmen have contacted better than a half-dozen charities and high schools across the country. A Total Force package of Active, Guard and Reserve personnel delivered gifts, food and music to more than 170 children from a variety of backgrounds, from a gifted high school robotics team to disabled and disadvantaged children from area hospitals and orphanages this week.

In addition, KC-10 Extender and KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft fed fuel to more than 16 Chilean F-16 aircraft over the course of two days in missions over central and northern Chile. Both flights were filled with Chilean, Argentinean and Brazilian media members who filed stories across South America highlighting the skill of aircrews from the U.S. and Chile.

The Total Force is represented here. Airmen from the Air National Guard brought a KC-135. Air Force Reservists brought KC-10s and F-16s. Active Duty Airmen flew B-1s, F-15E, and other aircraft to the airshow and exercise. The Air National Guard band of the Central States is playing concert venues ranging from Chilean Air Force halls to small foster homes across the country during its stay here.

From top to bottom, every Airmen deployed here sees this as an opportunity for growth. Capt. Phil "Ritz" Smith, an F-15E Strike Eagle demonstration pilot, said having the chance to grow international relationships during FIDAE is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"It's more than just an aerial demonstration," he said. "It's also about shaking the hands of your fellow Air Force comrades and gaining a better understanding of their life and military situations. In return, we want to show them the value of our partnership. Every time we can do that is a 'shack' in our minds."

About 500,000 people are expected to attend the air show Saturday and Sunday with better than 70,000 people already having filed through this week.

While the NEWEN exercise looms for aircrews, the focus this week is squarely on the people Airmen are greeting on the tarmac and in the community, explained Colonel Russell.

"What really matters are the lasting relationships we create," Colonel Russell concluded. "In the end, we want to show the people of Chile how Airmen are committed to being good neighbors and the finest of military partners."