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Apollo Beach Air Force pilot represents U.S. at prestigious air show

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image U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. William Graeff, 492nd Fighter Squadron pilot talks with Charles Bolden National Aeronautics and Space Administration administrator July 10, 2012, during the Farnborough International Air Show in Farnborough, England. Photo by Tech.

“I know there is a strong appreciation for the military in that community and it means a lot to us, especially when we’re overseas."

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

APOLLO BEACH — An Air Force pilot from South County represented the United States last week at one of the world’s largest and most prestigious air shows, held in Farnborough England. Lt. William Graeff of Apollo Beach was to be among an elite squad chosen as the face of America and the American military during the Farnborough Air Show from July 9 −15. The air and trade show is held once every two years. With the scream of an F-18 jet in the background, Lt. Graeff spoke with The Observer News over the telephone about the show and his appreciation for those back home.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said of the air show. “It’s my first time here and it’s a very humbling experience. I’m happy to be able to show people what we do, what I do.”

Graeff’s family moved to Apollo Beach about nine years ago, he joined the Air Force in 2009. He has been interested in flying, however, since seeing a small plane owned by his uncle when he was 12-years-old. Today, that small plane has been eclipsed by his current aircraft, an F-15e Strike Eagle, a hypersonic, long-range fighter jet frequently used for deep strike missions and interdiction without the need for escort. The aircraft has been deployed in every conflict since Operation Desert Storm in 1990, providing everything from deep strikes against high value targets to air support for coalition troops.

“The first time is pretty intimidating,” Graeff said of his experience in the cockpit of the fighter jet. “It’s a lot bigger and faster than anything I’ve ever flown before. It’s great flying; I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

Farnborough, located about halfway between London and the south coast of England, offers thousands of visitors the opportunity to not only get an up close look at the latest in commercial and military aviation technology, but also offers the chance to actually speak with the pilots, such as Lt. Graeff, who fly the aircraft. Organizers claim it to be the largest air show of its kind with this year being particularly important as it marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne.

For the U.S. military, the event provides an opportunity to showcase its military and technological prowess and, perhaps more importantly, to put a human face on a strategic and critical alliance with the United Kingdom and European nations. Lt. William Graeff of Apollo Beach was honored to be among those faces that scores of families who visited the show were able to see and speak with.

Before being stationed overseas, Graeff typically returned to Apollo Beach four or five times a year and with the honor of being included in the air show, his thoughts are never far from home.

“I would like to thank everyone in the community,” he said. “I know there is a strong appreciation for the military in that community and it means a lot to us, especially when we’re overseas. I’d like to thank everyone for all of their support.”

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