Story and photo by
Master Sgt. Eric Burks
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Le Bourget airport, France — It’s a long way from the South Pole to Paris, and not many people — besides perhaps a handful of scientists — have careers that include business trips to both locations.
But for U.S. Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Jennatte Berger, an avionics technician from the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, the recent hop across the Atlantic to France was a much shorter flight than her usual commute to Greenland and Antarctica, where her unit assists National Science Foundation operations in some of the most remote locations on the planet.
“In support of Operation Deep Freeze, we’re in Antarctica each year from late fall through early spring flying on-continent missions for scientific research,” Berger said.
The wing operates 10 LC-130 Hercules “Skibird” aircraft, modified with wheel-ski gear, in support of a wide range of Arctic and Antarctic scientific research on climate change, global warming, ozone depletion, earth history, astronomy and environmental change.
So, why was this winter bird at an air show in a city known for berets and baguettes, far from the frozen tundra of penguins and polar ice?
It’s the first time the wing, or any New York Air National Guard contingent, has participated in the Paris Air Show, according to a New York National Guard article. The 109th AW was invited to attend as an eight-bladed propeller upgrade, retrofitted to the LC-130s, is made in France for Collins Aerospace.
The NP2000 propeller, which features curved blades, provides more power than a traditional propeller. This fleet upgrade enhances the wing’s capabilities to operate in locations where the runway is nothing more than snow, ice, or a mix of both.
While technology drives performance capabilities, it’s the human element that ensures mission success. Berger is one of approximately 130 aircrew and support personnel from bases in Europe and the United States who attended this year’s Paris Air Show.
“The experience has been phenomenal,” she said. “During the first four days of the trade show, I had lunch with the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, talking about real issues that are being addressed now, and I got to meet the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of Lockheed Martin, which built our airframe.”
Additionally, she said, the air show provided a venue to walk around and visit other companies developing new technology. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Berger said.
The Air National Guard Airmen weren’t the only U.S. service members with a long flight to the Paris Air Show.
U.S. Navy Lt. Adam Anderson, a mission commander from Patrol Squadron 9, Combat Aircrew 3, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, was also participating in his first international air show.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “We get a window into a lot of communities that we don’t usually work with or know a lot about, such as the Army and Air Force units here, as well as our international partners.”
Anderson’s squadron operates the P-8A Poseidon, stationed approximately 5,000 miles from Paris in Puget Sound, just over an hour north of Seattle in the Unites States’ Pacific Northwest region. Their aircraft, a multimission anti-submarine warfare platform, is the only long-range anti-submarine aerial asset in the U.S. armed forces.
Talking with trade show visitors and members of the general public was another highlight, Anderson said.
“It’s always really fun to talk about your job when people are interested, and everyone here is pretty interested in aviation in general, so it’s been great to share what I can about what we do.”
While this year’s Paris Air Show featured the first public display of the K-46A Pegasus refueling platform, as well as a sophomore showing from the F-35A Lightning II — which performed an aerial demonstration during the 2017 air show — a few combat-tested veteran aircraft seemed to be “fan favorites” as well.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ryan Johnson, Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., said his unit’s AH-64E Apache helicopters have demonstrated their effectiveness for more than two decades of combat operations.
“The AH-64E is the most advanced attack helicopter on earth, and it’s been battle-proven in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as well as the recent conflict in Syria,” he said. “It’s a formidable platform that directly supports the ground force commander, and a tangible weapons system that instills fear in the enemy and promotes confidence amongst our ground forces.”
Johnson said it was beneficial to work with U.S. service members from the Air Force and Navy during the air show.
“I had the opportunity to learn the capabilities of their weapons systems and transport aircraft, which improves my knowledge as an officer,” he said. “It helps me better support the ground force when I fully understand the other aviation platforms around me.”
Johnson was also impressed during the trade show to see the range of innovative concepts on display from industry partners.
“It’s been an incredible experience,” he said. “It’s been eye-opening for me in terms of the broadness of the aviation industry itself, and how industry and the Department of Defense and our NATO allies can all come together at this air show to demonstrate their capabilities, representing a larger community to push each other forward and advance technology.”
Other participating U.S. Airmen and aircraft didn’t have quite so far to travel, as a C-130J Super Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, and an F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, were also featured at the Paris Air Show.
Like Berger, Anderson and Johnson, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Brandon “Animal” Shelley, a Weapon Systems Officer from the 48th FW’s 492nd Fighter Squadron, was also participating in his first international air show.
“The fact I get to say that I can serve my country in a fast fighter jet is very special to me, and I feel very lucky to have that opportunity,” he said. “My work is very compartmentalized; I don’t often get to see the corporate effort and the civilian side of platform development and production, so being here has been really cool to see all the collaboration and involvement that goes into producing the world’s greatest fighter jets.”
The best part of the air show, Shelley said, was interacting with international partners.
“I love just being able to talk about what we do and learn from others,” he said. “Coming here has really expanded my wealth of knowledge.”
Ultimately, participating in the week-long event was an opportunity to showcase what the United States brings to the table, according to Lt. Col. Ian Kemp, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa A3O and deputy air boss at the air show.
“We were able to bring in aircraft from three different branches of the Department of Defense, representing tactical strike aircraft, tactical mobility, strategic airlift and refueling, and even our support to scientific exploration,” he said. “It demonstrates the depth and breadth of what we can do for the world in multiple different ways, showcasing our ability to work with our international partners.”
The trade show allowed the U.S. to highlight the capabilities of aircraft, weapons systems, and to support the international needs, Kemp said.
“It allows the manufacturers to meet the needs of military forces worldwide, and each of the aircraft we’ve brought demonstrates something that the industry currently is offering to those nations,” he said.
Equally as important, he said, was the air show component, which was open to the general public from June 21-23.
“When visitors come to this air show, they can see how the United States government is a partner in Europe and how individual aircrew and their respective aircraft give us the opportunity to support a multitude of mission sets that protect Europe and demonstrates our engagement as a nation,” Kemp said.