Raptor demo pilot looks forward to Tampa Bay AirFest homecoming

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shannon Bowman
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

A fighter jet soars through the sky, performing precision banks, acrobatic aerial maneuvers and demonstrating superior airpower. The cheers of the crowd are a mere whisper compared to the deafening roar of the engines from the aircraft overhead.

Used effectively for recruiting, air shows can inspire the masses and encourage young people to aim high and pursue their dreams of becoming pilots or one of the aircrew members that make these demonstrations possible.

For U.S. Air Force Maj. Joshua Gunderson,  annual childhood visits to airshows at MacDill AFB, fueled his passion for military aviation and set the course in his journey to being named Air Combat Command’s F-22 Demonstration Team commander in January 2020. 

“I would attend the MacDill AirFest every year with my mother who was a strong advocate for my desire to pursue aviation,” said Gunderson. “One of the highlights was seeing the F-15C Eagle demonstration, and meeting the pilot. That experience meant a lot to me and helped drive me towards pursuing a career as an Air Force fighter pilot.”

As a Tampa native, Gunderson explained that he has been looking forward to his homecoming, and especially having the opportunity to perform in front of friends and family at the 2022 Tampa Bay AirFest here at MacDill.

“Pretty much all of my family lives in the Tampa area and I’m humbled to have the opportunity to fly in front of them,” said Gunderson.  “They have always been proud of my military service, and for many, this will be their first time seeing me fly over my hometown.”

As the F-22 Demo commander, Gunderson leads an 18-member team and has traveled the globe to showcase the capabilities of one of the world’s premier 5th-generation fighter aircraft for more than 10 million spectators. Gunderson also represents Air Combat Command, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense and the United States of America at more than 20 air shows annually.

“The most important part of our job is to interact with the local communities,” Gunderson stated.  “We aim to show people in every community that their goals are always attainable. Whether it’s flying a 165 million dollar fighter jet or to become a jet mechanic, doctor, lawyer, or whatever your passion is…everything is attainable through hard work and dedication.”

What began with an experience witnessing awe-inspiring aerial performances at AirFest as a child, resulted in the accomplishment of a life-long dream for Gunderson. He hopes to continue inspiring the next generation of youth to reach for their goals in the same way as the expert pilots he watched on MacDill’s flight line.

“My first piece of advice to young kids watching our team perform at AirFest would be that no matter your goals, life is a team sport,” said Gunderson. “The second piece of advice would be to pursue your passions in life regardless of whatever obstacles exist. Life will always have hurdles but those can all be overcome with hard work and determination.”

At the helm of one of the most coveted seats in the Air Force, Gunderson credits his team and fellow service members for their commitment to protecting the nation’s freedoms.

“The men and women of this team are so dedicated to the Air Force and to serving this country,” stated Gunderson. “The aerial demonstration we fly directly represents the hard work and dedication of the servicemen and women across the globe who sacrifice their time, effort and sometimes their lives protecting our freedoms.”

For now, Gunderson’s focus will be on leading the demo team, recruiting and retaining America’s finest personnel into the Armed Forces, enhancing international and domestic relationships, and notes that at some point he would consider returning to live in the Tampa area.

“Returning home is definitely something I am considering, but I still plan on serving my country in the Air Force for a while longer,” said Gunderson. “Lots of things can change between now and the end of my service but having family in Tampa makes it one of my top choices. For now, I want to keep flying jets and I hope to continue serving in that capacity.”

Gunderson is scheduled to perform demonstrations during both days of the Tampa Bay AirFest 2022. For more a complete schedule of performances, visit www.tampabayairfest.com. For more info about the F-22 Raptor Demo Team visit https://www.jble.af.mil/F-22-Demo-Team/.