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Proud parents look forward to Yuma Air Show
Yumans Jack and Sandra Riley will be among the tens of thousands of spectators attending this year's Yuma Air Show on March 17 at Marine Corps Air Station.
While interested in seeing all the civilian aerial acrobatic shows and other entertainment, what they are really looking forward to is watching another of their son's performances.
Their son, Capt. Ryan “Motor” Riley, is one of the six U.S. Air Force Thunderbird squadron pilots, flying the number two, or left wing, position. He is in his second year on the team, which is a special-duty assignment for officers.
“It is such an exciting performance. It never gets old. It is such a moving and patriotic performance” said Jack Riley, who moved to Yuma from Florence, Colo., six years ago. “I hadn't ever seen the Thunderbirds perform until my son joined the team.”
Their son has also been selected to be on life-sized posters to be displayed in the three Yuma-area Walmart stores to publicize the air show.
Riley last saw his son perform in November at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where the squadron is based, during an event called Aviation Nation.
“We just wanted him to be a good person, but he is that and so much more,” said Riley, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves in the 1960s. “He knew at a young age what he wanted to do. It's fortunate he had the ability and confidence to get it done.”
Although he and his wife hope they will be able to spend some time with their son the weekend of the air show, Riley said they know he is here working and may not have enough time.
“We might be able to go to dinner with him.”
Capt. Riley, who is living his dream, said he always knew he wanted to be a combat pilot and fly jets ever since his father took him to his first air show.
“I knew as I kid I wanted to fly and be in the sky. It was one of those things where everything just worked out for me.”
Now as a Thunderbird pilot, Riley has been flying all over the world. He said everywhere they go, people are excited to see their performances, but it's always more special when there are friends and family members at the show.
“It's like when you are a kid and your parents show up to your baseball game, it's the same thing. It's always nice to have family in the audience. When someone you know and love is there, it makes it more special.”
Riley graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2003 and started flying F-16s the following year after completing pilot and F-16 training. He has served two combat deployments to Iraq.
This won't be Riley's first trip to Yuma either. Although he wasn't a performer, he was here at last year's air show with the Air Force's Viper West F-16 demonstration team flying in a support role.
Riley said flying as a member of the Thunderbirds has been “fun” and “exciting” and is about so much more that flying around the world showcasing American air power.
“We are all combat airmen and the Thunderbirds showcase the pride, precision and professionalism of those serving in the Air Force. It's not just about performing shows to good music and showing off the power of the jets. It's about the pride every airman takes in his job and what it means to serve and give oneself to a greater cause.”
The Thunderbirds show has something for everyone, he said, with precisely coordinated aerial acrobatic maneuvers choreographed to music, mixed in with real-time cockpit communications.
The F-16 is the premier multi-role fighter for the Air Force and, according to Riley, the best-flying plane there is.
“It is a pilot's dream. It's reliable, very maneuverable and very fun to fly.”
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.