Pilots and mechanics participating in this weekend’s “Great Tennessee Air Show” in Smyrna, Tennessee, shared their stories with Middle Tennessee State University students, faculty, and staff, local scouts and Civil Air Patrol groups from Smyrna and Murfreesboro on the MTSU campus Friday, June 9.
Blue Angels members including U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Julius Bratton of Woodlawn, Tennessee, and a trio from the Navy’s F-35C Demo Team spent an hour with with pilots and future pilots in a College of Education classroom discussing the teamwork needed to fly a Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet 1,400 mph and maintain the $100 million aircraft.
The Great Tennessee Air Show takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 10-11, at Smyrna Airport, where dozens of aerial acts are scheduled to perform in front of thousands of spectators from around the region.
MTSU and its Department of Aerospace, one of the premier aviation programs in the nation, are an overall event sponsor and sponsor of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor team’s performance. The aerospace department also will have a booth and static aircraft display at the show.
The Blue Angels kicked off Friday’s visit to MTSU by showcasing their 2022 “Commit” promotional video, then F-35C Demo Team pilots Lt. Dan “Skap” Barringer of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Capt. Matt “Blower” Jackson of Rising Sun, Maryland, presented a humor-packed PowerPoint. They were joined by Master Chief Rich Brickey, a mechanic.
Bratton, who was joined by AM1 Jeremy Bluhm of Nashville, the team’s crew chief. said he was “very close” to going to MTSU because of its aerospace program.
“If I had not been accepted early into the Naval Academy,” the 2007 graduate of Northwest High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, said, “I would have been a Blue Raider.”
His father, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Leamon Bratton, of the Woodlawn community in Montgomery County, was a 1980 MTSU graduate and later became a farmer, raising Black Angus cattle.
Julius Bratton told the future pilots to “dare to be different. And for those in the Civil Air Patrol, you are already daring to be different,” adding that humility is an important character trait he learned along the way.
Photographed with the air personnel at the end of their visit, Carter Biankowski, an MTSU junior professional pilot major from Smyrna, said “it’s cool to hear their presentation.” He added that he plans to “work for any major airline” after graduating.
Cody Jones, 12, of Smyrna, one of the members of the Smyrna Civil Air Patrol, said he was “very impressed with meeting the F-35 team because I want to become a professional pilot and a fighter pilot, and I know it’s going to take a lot of dedication and hard work.”
Later Friday afternoon, MTSU hosted Civil Air Patrol cadets and adult leaders from Murfreesboro and Smyrna to meet with the pilots at the Smyrna airport.
As the presentation closed, MTSU aerospace student Brianna McDonald, a professional pilot major and one of three young women who will compete in the annual Air Race Classic this month, and College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten presented the guests with special MTSU aerospace ball caps. The Blue Angels provided commemorative photos and brochures.
CAP, the volunteer civilian auxiliary of the Air Force, has partnered with MTSU’s College of Basic and Applied Sciences since 2014 to provide aerospace education opportunities to its high school-aged cadets. Aside from a COVID-19 hiatus, MTSU has also hosted CAP’s National Cadet Engineering Technology Academy every year since 2017.
MTSU and CAP personnel received a sneak peek of the Raptor team’s performance Friday afternoon, and all were invited onto the tarmac afterward to see the F-22s up close.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)