Wanaka: Being selected to fly in the world famous US Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic team was a ‘dream come true’ for Paul Strickland.
Paul, known to friends and colleagues as ‘Sticky’, will be a special guest pilot at next Easter’s 30th Anniversary Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow.
Flying Warbirds runs in Paul’s family with his father having been a P-51 Mustang pilot in the Korean War and one of his two daughters also learning to fly in the USAF. At college Paul majored in Biology which resulted in his involvement in a year-long scientific study in Kenya, working with Joy Adamson of Born Free fame. This included tracking a leopard from the air on a regular basis.
On his return to the United States Paul took a career turn, joining the US Air Force and training as a pilot. “My first aircraft was the A-10 Warthog, based in the UK. Our mission was to thwart any possible Soviet invasion of West Germany and as such we trained employing our tank killer at 100-250 feet all over Europe.”
Back in the United States a few years later Paul transferred to the F-5 fighter before the significant move to the F-16. “It was like going from a Triumph Spitfire to a Maserati race car. A nine-G capable monster with a tactical radar and decisive manoeuvring, the F-16 was like a glove one fits on and simply sighs at the comfort and fit.”
“Just when I didn’t think Air Force life could get any better my squadron commander called me in and pressed me to apply to become a member of the USAF Thunderbirds display team. In early 1991 I was notified of my selection to fly the #4 slot” says Paul.
Paul says the F-16 is an incredible machine, especially its easy handling in close formation.
“Many aviators are unaware that a useful technique to flying aerobatic formation is to trim the aircraft with a heavy nose down force so that you’re always pulling and not pushing on the stick to remain in position. We flew the F-16 with full nose down trim that equated to 24lbs of pulling pressure on your right arm. At a 5G pull you could be straining upwards of 100lbs of pressure, but the result was a smooth formation correction even at 450 knots. This of course took a lot of practice, which fortunately was the end result of constant training sorties,” says Paul.
Paul flew with the Thunderbirds at more than 160 airshows over two years including two overseas demonstration tours to Europe and South America. After he left the Thunderbirds Paul stayed with the F-16, flying tactically for the next 15 years all over the world. His military career ended after a stint at the Pentagon. In 2006 he left to fly for South West Airlines.
Paul’s experience with the Thunderbirds led to him being invited to join the civilian L39 jet team – the Patriots.
Paul is looking forward to coming back to New Zealand after a month’s tramping holiday here several years ago. “I will be flying Craig Mossman’s L39 at Wanaka and am humbled and excited about being part of this great event.”
The 30th Anniversary Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow is being held on March 30th, March 31st and April 1st. Information and tickets are available from www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com