AFSOUTH showcases U.S. air and space power at F-AIR Colombia 2023

  • Published
  • By Maj. Stephanie Schonberger
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs

More than 47,000 people attended the biennial F-AIR Colombia International Aeronautic Fair at the José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro, Colombia, July 12-16.

12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) has long supported the event, and this year the U.S. Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, also known as the Viper Demo Team, from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and the Wings of Blue Parachute Team from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., performed as part of a lineup of aerial demonstrations.

Also known as the Viper, The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine, supersonic, multi-role fighter proven in both air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.  It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the U.S. and 24 allied nations.

The Viper Demo Team utilizes a single aircraft to display precision maneuvers showcasing its unique capabilities.  

“It was an honor to show the Colombians what the F-16 is capable of,” said Viper Demo Team commander and pilot Capt. Aimee ‘Rebel’ Fiedler. “Interacting with the incredibly welcoming people here was the highlight of my week,” she said. “The Colombians have been wonderful hosts, and it’s evident how seamlessly our air forces work together.”  

Additionally, the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing from McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., provided two F-16s for static display. South Carolina is partnered with Colombia in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, and their respective units often train together in events and exercises. 

F-AIR included an aerospace industry trade show and three days of military and civilian aircraft static displays plus aerial demonstrations. In addition to the Viper Demo Team, these included the Colombian Air Force T-27 Tucano, Kfir, and Arpía 51 acrobatic teams, Brazilian Air Force Super Tucano A-29 Esquadrilha da Fumaça, or “Smoke Squadron,” and a combined jump from the Colombian Air Force Águilas de Gules and U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue parachute teams.

Colombian-born U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Miguel Sarria, Wings of Blue enlisted instructor, said the experience was incomparable. It was the teams’ first time jumping together, he said, and bringing two teams with different skill levels together to perform benefited both the Americans and the Colombians.

“We learned things from them, and they learned things from us. From a parachuting perspective, they learned a lot from us, and from a military performance, discipline and formation perspective, we learned a lot from them.” Sarria said.

Sarria never imagined that serving in the U.S. military while simultaneously reconnecting with his culture and heritage in Colombia would be possible.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to represent not only the U.S. but also the Colombian people. Having the opportunity to be that bridge between two nations is a humbling and emotional experience for me.” he said.

The Wings of Blue is a team of active-duty Airmen and cadets who travel worldwide to represent the Air Force in precision parachuting, competing and performing for millions of spectators each year.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro officially launched the air show at the opening ceremony July 12. In his remarks he stated that Colombia must continue to strengthen its air forces to fulfill their obligation to Colombian territorial defense, and he emphasized the importance of collective action to protect the Amazon rainforest due to its critical role in climatic stabilization and preserving global biodiversity.

The president also discussed the Colombian Air Force’s ongoing transformation to an Air and Space Force, stressing that space capabilities in the information age are essential to democracy, and he highlighted the importance of the aerospace industry to Colombia’s long-term economic prosperity. 

Although civilian and military organizations from many nations participated, Brazil was this year’s guest of honor, reflecting the close relationship between the neighboring countries and their air forces.

Colombia is a trusted U.S. ally in Latin America, and participating in air shows, exercises and knowledge exchanges represents the two nations’ collective intent to build a more cooperative and secure Western hemisphere.

“Events like this air show further strengthen our longstanding partnership with Colombia, and this year we had the added opportunity to demonstrate to the Colombian people that the F-16 is one of the most capable aircraft ever built,” said Maj. Gen. Evan Pettus, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) commander, who attended the show.

“I hope our participation reminds our friends here in Colombia that we’re committed to working alongside them now and into the future to advance freedom and prosperity in the region,” Pettus said.

In total, more than 30 U.S. Air Force personnel supported the air show. “It takes an enormous effort to move Airmen and aircraft as much as 3,000 miles from various locations to attend this event,” said F-AIR 2023 U.S. Air Force Air Boss Col. Nick Stahlbaum.

“We do it because our air forces have built a strong relationship training together and learning from one another for many decades. We support the Colombians, and they do the same for us – the collaborative effort makes us great partners, and both countries are better off as a result,” he added.

The U.S. Air Force participated in the most recent F-AIR full air show in 2019 and also contributed to many prior shows. F-AIR is normally held every two years, but in 2021 it was hosted digitally due to COVID-19.

2023 was the 11th F-AIR air show, and the next event is expected to be held in 2025.