Vancouver pilot heads U.S. military delegation at Farnborough International Airshow

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Listen to Col. Andy Uribe’s interview with The Columbian, recorded by a public affairs journalist.

Did you know?

• In a typical year, the Farnborough International Airshow would be the biggest outdoor event in England, drawing more than 250,000 visitors; this summer, it will be surpassed by the London Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

When it comes to this year's aviation scene, Farnborough is the biggest show on — or just slightly above — earth. And a Vancouver pilot is in charge of the U.S. military delegation.

Air Force Col. Andy Uribe is the air boss for all American service personnel and aircraft at this week's Farnborough International Airshow in England.

"We have all four services represented," Uribe said Wednesday morning by phone from Farnborough. "We have 100 folks and 10 aircraft of several types. I coordinated getting them to England from the U.S. and Europe, and setting up the area.

"The last few days, my job as the air boss is to make sure all the crews are ready to do their jobs to showcase themselves and our equipment," said Uribe, who grew up in Vancouver and earned his wings at Pearson Field. "I try to stay in the background."

Farnborough is held on even-numbered years, alternating with the International Paris Air Show.

"This is my first time to Farnborough," said Uribe, but he's not a rookie in this assignment. "I was air boss at the (2011) Paris Air Show, which is as big in size and scope."

The two assignments as air boss illustrate Uribe's career transition over the past few years. In 2008, then-Lt. Col. Uribe was recognized as the only current Air Force F-16 fighter pilot with 1,000 combat hours. In addition to eight combat tours in Iraq, Uribe flew combat missions during the Balkan conflict.

Uribe, 45, was promoted to colonel and served a tour in Afghanistan on headquarters staff. He's now with the Air Force's European headquarters at Ramstein Air Base in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

"I manage flying operations for Air Force aircraft stationed in Europe, so aerial events are managed by folks who work for me," Uribe said.

That's how he wound up as air boss: "I volunteered last year and was selected."

Farnborough is a combination of aviation spectacle and trade show, where aircraft manufacturers announce billion-dollar deals and show off their newest products.

Two types of U.S. warplanes — the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighter and the Marines Corps' tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey — are part of the flying demonstrations that are a highlight of the daily schedule. Other aircraft under Uribe's command are on stationary display.

"We offer probably the best access to our aircraft. Folks can come inside our cargo airplanes, walk up to our fighters, talk to our pilots and maintenance folks, ask questions," Uribe said. "We don't charge money, like some other exhibitors do. We try to be engaging and interactive."

Uribe also gets to enjoy the festivities himself.

"It's fun as a pilot to talk to folks who really love flying, either as pilots themselves or fans of aviation," he said.

And he likes to see the flying displays and aerobatics as much as they do.

"It's pretty neat. Our corral, where we have our aircraft, is next to the runway," Uribe said. "We have a catbird seat for the flying demonstrations."

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.