From the stands to the sky

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Ebony Bryant
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As a 12-year-old child, Maj. Joseph “Bird” Songer sat in the stands of the Charlotte Motor Speedway watching his first NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600 with his father. Twenty years later, Songer was able to see the same speedway and race from a much different angle… the sky!

Songer led a team of eight pilots from the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program based out of Sheppard Air Force Base as they had the distinct honor of performing the flyover at the Coca-Cola 600 this year.

The race has traditionally been held over the Memorial Day weekend and features a ceremony with hundreds of military members giving honors to those who have gone before them and given the ultimate sacrifice. The grand conclusion of the ceremony is the flyover.  

This year, ENJJPT T-38 Talons, could be seen making their way over the crowds at the conclusion of the ceremony.  

“It’s pretty surreal coming back after all these years,” said Songer in an interview with Fox News. “It’s probably the best thing a kid could see. I remember thinking the Thunderbirds were probably the coolest thing I had seen at that point but the NASCAR race was second.”

Amidst the preparations for the flyover and coordinating the four-ship formation for the event, Songer and his team recognized the significance of what they were doing.

“It’s a great honor, really, to honor those who’ve given their lives for our country and support the local community here, and support one of the greatest races in the Cup Series,” Songer said.

The flyover team included one Royal Air Force pilot, one German Air Force Pilot and six American pilots. All pilots that participated in the flyover are instructors at the ENJJPT program at Sheppard.

ENJJPT is a special program for the NATO alliance dating back to 1981. The purpose of the program is to train fighter pilots for NATO. This October, ENJJPT will be 40 years old.