HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — “An air show without pyro is just another fly in,” read the backs of their bright orange T-shirts.
An eight-member team from Firewalkers International Pyro supported the 388th Fighter Wing’s F-35A Lightning II attack demonstrations and other performers with pyrotechnics during this year’s Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show June 23-24.
“It’s a passion, we get to travel all over the world, meet greet people and blow stuff up,” said Rick Myers, company owner and retired Air Force weapons safety.
The team has supported previous Hill Air Shows. This year, the team supported a four-ship of F-35s, as well as the P-51 Mustang and Alpha Jet aerial performances. Using modified mining grade explosives, gasoline and fireworks for sound effects, the pyro team simulated strafing and bombing runs for each of the aircraft.
A combination of science and art goes into each of the shows the Firewalkers support all over the world. The team uses modified explosives to produce a “Hollywood effect” that doesn’t produce fragments, throw debris, is safe for people to view, and safe for the pilots performing.
During the each of the teams’ shows, aircraft are maneuvered much the same way they would be in a combat situation. Myers said it’s the job of the pyro team to use their knowledge and experience of working with these aircraft to time the explosions to make them look real.
The biggest explosion the team created during the Hill Air Show was known as the “wall of fire.” It was part of the F-35A demonstration finale and required about 1,000 feet of detonation cord and 500 gallons of gasoline.
At the end of the F-35 performance, the four-ship of F-35s flew north to south and just before reaching show center, Myers and his team set off a mesmerizing explosion simulating the jets dropping bombs, drawing “oohs and ahhs” from show-goers.
“You can hire a jet team for aerobatics, but when people see the wall of fire they’re blown away, because it’s just not something you see every day,” said Tom Farrankop, a Firewalkers team member.