Class Of 1964 USAF Academy


By Jennifer Taylor, The Autopilot/Florida Magazine, August/September 2008

Rick Svetkoff was born to fly fighters. He knew that from the time he was in elementary school, and it turns out the long-ago vision of his future was prescient rather than wishful. In 1995, he formed the Starfighters”, a supersonic demo team that scream the sleek blue-and-white Lockheed F- 104 Starfighters across the sky in airshows, captivating legions of fans by their aerobatic performances and precision flying at lightening speed.

“The world’s only supersonic civilian jet demonstration team,” the Starfighters have a brand new—and quite famous—home base to call their own. In July, the crew moved into Kennedy Space Center (KSC). “We are in the process of finalizing with NASA to build a hangar at KSC right on the space shuttle runway. We’re hoping to begin construction in August,” an exhilarated Svetkoff says.

The ability to boast such an illustrious address is made possible in part through the Space Act Agreement, which allows the team to operate from the prestigious runway. The move is something that has been in process for some time, and the Starfighters have worked with NASA over the past year. “We do research missions out of KSC on the shuttle runway. We’re the first commercialized operation to operate off of the runway with NASA payload on board, which is a big statement,” he continues.

Now with the show in its 13th season, the team was able to include a third ship into the routine. Adding the third bird into the show was made possible by funding from Moran Resources, the company’s sponsor since 2000. However, due to the high costs of fuel, the number of shows has been limited to 12 this year. Svetkoff mentions the financial strain amounts to more than $20,000 each time they land.

Comprised of highly trained pilots, the team is a tight knit unit. Svetkoff has been flying with Starfighters since the group was formed. “General Steve Ritchie is a retired former Air Force General Ace in Vietnam. Mike Smith was the F 14 demonstration pilot for the Navy and he’s flying F16s for the Texas Guard now, and our number three ship. Geoff Hickman, who is our number four pilot, was the Air Force demonstration pilot on the F 16,” he says with pride.


The crew chiefs recruit new team members. Andrew Bales, the original crew chief, is still with the team. Sean Freitag is the lead crew chief, and Dave May is a crew chief as well. The team is rounded out by Mike Robinson from Great Britain who is a full-time life support and egress systems technician and flight/airshow operations coordinator The Starfighters will continue to conduct airshows after the relocation to KSC. They are always searching for additional sponsors who will allow them to continue working with all three planes. The team is currently in discussion with several different media outlets about the possibility of a reality television show. Somehow Svetkoff knew it would work out this way, back when the idea of a job was a distant reality. “That’s the only thing I said I was going to do. I was going to fly fighters and that was it.”
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