For the past 15 years Randy Howell’s East County Patriots Jet Demonstration Team has been performing at various airshows around the Western United States. Even though the team uses Byron Airport as its home field, some East County residents aren’t even aware that Byron has an airport, let alone that the airport is home base to our nation’s only civilian owned aerobatic jet team.
The Patriots originally began as Airshow America in 1997 and flew two bright red supersonic Mig-17s. The Patriots now perform with six Soviet L-39 “Albatross” jet fighters that were purchased as surplus from former East Bloc countries. The Albatross was manufactured in the Czech Republic and is a favorite on the airplane racing circuit. When performing with the patriot’s team colors, the Albatross is a fine looking plane. The pilots perform extreme maneuvers that subject them to forces from negative 2 g’s to plus 8 g’s. A 200-pound pilot pulling eight g’s experiences a sensation similar to having a 1,400-pound horse sitting on his chest.
I have watched the Patriots perform in the presence of military pilots who acknowledge that our show is better, in some ways, than the military aerobatic teams. For one thing, our impressive signature red, white, and blue smoke system is our own patented invention that is used by no other team in the world. The other advantage we have is that our L-39s fly slower than the F-18 Hornets of the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds’ F-16 Fighting Falcons. Both aircraft fly at such high speeds that a large part of their program consists in setting up formations out of sight of the audience. The more maneuverable L-39s flown by the Patriots, however, remain in view throughout the program.
Funding limitations are our only bottleneck. It costs a lot of money to operate these aircraft. Counting overhead expenses like hanger fees, fuel, and insurance, it costs $1,500 to take off in one of the planes. During a single show one of the planes consumes up to 180 gallons of fuel at about five bucks a gallon.
POINTING EAST COUNTY YOUTH TOWARDS THE SKY
Randy Howell encourages young people to set their sights high when considering their future. He especially encourages those who wish to pursue career paths in aviation by providing hands-on exposure to aircraft. He began with his son, Dusty, who at eight years old set the world’s record as the youngest person to solo an ultra light. Fourteen years later Dusty became one of history’s youngest commercial pilots. After launching Dusty’s aviation career, Randy started the Patriots Jet Team Foundation in 2011 to instill in other children his passion for flight.
The foundation is creating and sponsoring programs and events designed to mentor and educate youth in our communities who are interested in aviation careers. The foundation’s mission is to do more than simply promote jobs in the industry, however. The larger goal is to provide learning resources to improve student competencies in the so-called STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We have three educational streams — an Aero-space Academy, a STEM Academy, and an Aviation Academy.
Four years ago we constructed a 20,000 square foot Patriots’ Jet Team Center. It provides storage for the dozen aircraft in the Patriots’ fleet, but half of the space is dedicated as a fully equipped state-of-the-art Learning Center and museum. The Learning Center offers a number of educational modules including an Introduction to Aviation course every quarter, a private pilot-ground school, plus classes in such subjects as Aerodynamics, Theory of Flight, Space Flight, Space Navigation, Jet Propulsion, and others. Students learn the basics of aerospace systems including electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, and environment control.
Each course of instruction at our Learning Center incorporates hands-on elements, which reinforce the material from textbooks and manuals. For example, lecturing about the fuel injection system on an aircraft engine achieves a completely new level of effectiveness when students can disconnect and reconnect a fuel head exchanger from a combustor. They can more easily grasp how control surfaces alter the direction of a plane in flight by actually moving the joystick and watching the ailerons and elevators respond, or observe how the rudder turns when they press on the pedals.
But the learning gets even better because students are then exposed to formulas describing the physics of pressure and combustion in the engine or describing the deviation of flow over the wings of the plane. Math becomes connected to the real world rather than simply being numbers on a white board or a piece of paper.
A major set of learning tools is provided through four world-class simulators that expose students to the challenges of actually controlling an airplane in flight. The simulators can be programmed to provide students with amazingly realistic sensations of flying nearly any kind of airplane from a Piper Cub to a Boeing 777. The simulators are not fancy videogames; they expose our students to hands-on information about systems, principles of navigation, and the steps involved in successfully piloting a plane from engine start-up to shutdown.
Besides our educational resources and classes at the Byron site, the Patriots Jet Team Foundation also offers seminars and courses to the students in all five schools in the Liberty Union High School District. We maintain qualified instructors in each of the schools. We also have learning modules that are available to assist any teacher in strengthening the foundation for any STEM-related instruction.
An amazing retired aerospace professional, Ed Daily, the director of our Aerospace Academy, has assembled an extensive collection of lesson plans covering 85 different subjects. They are classroom-ready, each with an element of hands-on learning to supplement the lecture and written materials.
The foundation also sponsors career days at each of the schools. Our biggest event is a four-day Rocket Launch Competition. The most recent was held last year at Freedom High school. More than 2,000 wanna-be rocket scientists and budding aeronautical engineers gathered to design, build, and launch a rocket. They worked in teams and pooled their talents, imaginations, and skills to launch a rocket that would go higher or farther than those of their competitors.
The Patriots Jet Team Foundation depends upon gifts and donations from people and businesses in the community. We have two fundraisers each year — a golf tournament in June at the Discovery Bay Country Club and a fall gala at the Patriots Jet Team facility.
The foundation is led, managed, and operated by volunteers. None of us are paid for our services; we gladly invest our time, energy, and resources in improving the lives and futures of young people. We are touching a lot of kids but are acutely aware of our inability to serve many others who would take advantage of our program if we had sufficient resources. We need more volunteers of all kinds — from instructors, to maintenance people, to members of our cleanup crew.
Contact us through our website to learn more about the program and to see if there is a way that you could become involved in helping to improve the knowledge and skills of the additional young people we will, because of your help, be able to serve.
I just want to add that the Patriot Team volunteers are a happy team of people. We are a family with high levels of affection and comradery. How can life be better or more satisfying than to be part of a cheerful band of brothers and sisters who are engaged in making the world a better place for young people to grow up in? Come join us. Find out for yourself.