Air Show Transcends All Heights

F-AIR Colombia 2017 International Air Show demonstrated the capacities of the Colombian Air Force.
Geraldine Cook/Diálogo | 4 August 2017

International Relations

A demonstration of a Colombian Air Force UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during the international air show held at José María Córdova International Airport in the department of Antioquia. (Photo: South Carolina Air National Guard Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

A radiant blue sky greeted 60,000 Colombian and international visitors, who attended the eighth edition of the International Air Show F-AIR Colombia 2017. The air show was held July 13th to 16th at José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro, in the department of Antioquia. It showcased the civil and military aviation potential of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym), and offered visitors a range of attractions.

During the air show, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr. adjutant general of the South Carolina National Guard, awards the South Carolina Meritorious Service Medal to General Carlos Vargas Bueno, the commander of the Colombian Air Force, for his contribution to the State Partnership Program between South Carolina and Colombia. (Photo: South Carolina Air National Guard Sergeant Jorge Intriago)

Military rotary and fixed-wing aircraft —from fighters to tankers, to transport, and trainers — as well as drones, satellites, radar aircraft, land and air support equipment, aerospace medicine, and new aerospace technologies, were all part of the aviation event. The air show, which is held every other year, featured 16 air shows by the Colombian, Brazilian, and U.S. air forces.

“This air show was born from deep within the FAC 10 years ago,” said General Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas, the commander of FAC. “It was an initiative to present only the institutional capabilities from the 5th Air Combat Command at Rionegro Air Base, but we saw how it kept gaining ground year after year.” It grew in stature, and that allowed it to become entrenched as an air show where, in addition to displaying our aviation capacities, we demonstrated new systems and technological innovations, and also were able to showcase businesses from Colombia’s aeronautical industry, which contributes to our national development.

The air show was spearheaded by FAC and by Civil Aviation. Bogotá’s International Expo and Business Center, known as Corferias, provided logistics coordination for more than 90 exhibitors from Canada, Chile, Colombia, Israel, Spain, and the United States, as well as 22 delegations from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. The air show was expected to generate $71 million in business.

“We are positioning ourselves as one of the most important air shows in the region,” said Colombian Air Force Colonel Édgar Francisco Sánchez Canosa, the assistant director of Civil Aviation and director of F-AIR Colombia 2017. “We have companies coming here from every continent. This world-class fair has called the attention of nations that are interested in investing in Colombia.”

In addition to aerial feats, the air show offered specialized conferences held by international experts on topics such as satellite capabilities, civil and military aviation, and the outlook for the global aviation sector, among others.

International inroads

“This air show is amazing because it attracts people from across the region, whether it’s a Brazilian flight demonstration, a demonstration of our own capabilities, or providing FAC the opportunity to show its capabilities to its own people,” U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Mark D. Kelly, the commander of the 12th Air Combat Command/Air Forces South, told Diálogo during the air show. Lt. Gen. Kelly said that F-AIR Colombia 2017 is just as important because it brings together business partners and executives from the aviation industry with air force commanders and their staff from various countries, facilitating opportunities for dialogue on issues that are common to the countries of the region, such as security.

Visitors attend the air show at José María Córdova International Airport in Rionegro in the department of Antioquia, Colombia. (Photo: South Carolina Air National Guard Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

“A lot of positive things come from this air show; it’s more than just air show demonstrations,” he added. “The big thing about FAC is that it is 15,000 strong. They really do a lot for a 15,000-strong air force,” he said. “I am always amazed at their capabilities as airmen, their professionalism, their ability to execute; they operate as they were 150,000 personnel.”

“Having the Brazilian and U.S. Air Forces here is a validation of our friendship and brotherhood,” Gen. Bueno told Diálogo. “The U.S. Air Force has been essential to us in our fight for democracy and for defeating terrorist organizations and other outlaw groups, due to the capacities, intelligence, and training that they have given our pilots and technicians, including military leadership.” For its part, the U.S. Air Force showcased various aircraft, including the F-16, KC-10 and KC-135 fighter planes. The fighters of the Viper East Demonstration Team displayed their skills.

“It’s a great experience to meet other pilots from Colombia and the U.S.,” said Brazilian Air Force Major Daniel García Pereira, an A-29 Super Tucano pilot and a member of the air demonstration squadron “Esquadrilha Da Fumaça” (Vapor Trails Squadron). “For my career as a pilot it’s very important,” Maj. García said as he deplaned after finishing the aerial acrobatics in Brazil’s air show.

Brazil uses its A-29 Super Tucano light attack plane for counterinsurgency duties and for training new pilots. “We are very proud to represent our country. It’s very nice to be here to show to the Colombian people, that have helped us many times, what we have,” Maj. García said. The squadron put on a daily 35-minute show with approximately 50 acrobatics in each, and it said farewell by skywriting the message “Thanks, Colombia” with exhaust from the planes.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Beckham, an A-16 pilot with the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing, also stressed the importance of participating in the air show. “We’re here because it’s important to foster our friendship with Colombia,” he said. The South Carolina Air National Guard is Colombia’s partner through the U.S. National Guard’s State Partnership Program. “FAC has developed a lot in recent years and we are working more and more with them. It’s a very professional and advanced air force, and it’s important to work with them in more detail, day after day, and to do joint exercises.”

National pride

Colombia showed its air potential in the military review. FAC demonstrated a tanker plane, Kfir planes, and helicopters. The paratrooper show was one of the most widely acclaimed when they conducted rescue operations and included their paratrooper dogs.

FAC First Lieutenant John Alexander Ganes Sánchez, an A-37 Dragonfly fighter pilot, participated in Colombia’s air demonstration. “This air show is an opportunity for Colombians to grow their aviation culture. It’s a very meaningful experience because we’re showing off our planes’ capabilities,” he said upon finishing his acrobatics show.

After four days and hundreds of visitors, the fair ended successfully. “FAC is a partner air force, a friend, which has important air response capabilities at different threat levels and a lot of knowledge to share,” said Gen. Bueno. “We’ve acquired knowledge in a fight that hasn’t been easy; but today, thank God, with this peace process we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. FAC has been decisive in getting to the end of the tunnel. Today, we have a lot to teach and to share, and a lot to learn from our brothers in neighboring countries who have very substantial air forces.”

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