The occasion was the grand opening of a 20,000-square-foot facility for the Patriots Jet Team, the only privately owned, six-plane precision jet team in the world. Founded nine years ago, the team is similar to the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds. Pilots who fly for the Patriots team have been members of each of those elite units, and on Sunday they treated locals to aerobatics before and after an appearance over Infineon Raceway.
But while the team’s performance Sunday was a highlight, the event turned the spotlight on the Patriots Jet Team Foundation, a new nonprofit organization that will fill half the new facility with an aviation museum and learning center. The center will offer hands-on experiences such as building rockets, operating a flight simulator and assisting team members in caring for the jets in the hope of developing area youths’ interest in aviation and the myriad careers associated with the wild blue yonder.
“We have a passion for getting kids away from Game Boys and getting them into hands-on math and science,” Foundation Executive Director David Ringler told the crowd, which included many children. “I’m delighted to see so many kids here. America needs you kids in order to move forward.”
Also on hand for the dedication was County Supervisor Mary Piepho, who praised the Patriot team for the opening of the first phase of the airport’s expansion. The improvements will translate into future jobs and economic activity at the airport, she said, although it might also trigger jealousy.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Piepho said to her husband David, standing nearby. “Your man cave is never going to look like this.”
The foundation is now taking applications for its summer program for high school students. For more information about the foundation or the Patriot Jet Team, log on to www.pjtf.org.