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Bandit Flight Team brings excitement to events while celebrating military aviation history

Posted January 12, 2021 12:07 p.m. EST
Updated January 12, 2021 12:57 p.m. EST

This article was written for our sponsor, Raleigh Executive Jetport.

Whether at a North Carolina State University football game or a NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, look to the sky and you might just be treated to a flyover from the Bandit Flight Team.

A highly-trained aviation team made up of experienced pilots and former members of the military, the Bandit Flight Team uses its skills to support charities and veteran groups, performing at dozens of events every year.

For team leader and lead pilot Jim Kilpatrick, the Bandit Flight Team has helped him honor and connect with his military roots after retiring from his career as an American Airlines pilot.

"I always wanted to be a pilot — that was my goal. I went to Vietnam for a tour and flew 257 missions, then worked as an American Airlines pilot for 34 years, and after I retired I got a little bored, but I still loved to fly," said Kilpatrick. "There was a group of other pilots at Raleigh Executive Jetport in Sanford that wanted to start formation group flying, but none of them had military experience. That's where I came in and helped them put a team together and get going."

Since starting at Raleigh Exec in 2009, the Bandit Flight Team has grown to become a household name across the state. For the past eight years, the group has been performing during the national anthem at N.C. State games, organically growing its reputation and forming a nonprofit organization called Flying for the Flag that recognizes and supports military members.

With 10 pilots and five ground control members, the team has carefully choreographed its flight performances. While Kilpatrick was originally one of the only members with military experience, as the team has grown it's attracted more former military members — and hope to continue honoring current and former members with their routines and flyovers.

"One thing kind of led to the other and all of a sudden we saw we were having a tremendous effect on people on the ground, so we just grew it that way. It was natural to salute the military since so many of our members have a lot of combat and military background," said Kilpatrick. "We also work with civic organizations, like Pretty in Pink and Susan G. Komen. We always do a flyover for those events and then do a missing man salute dedicated to the people that did not win their battle against cancer."

Just recently, the Bandit Flight Team worked with WRAL to do a salute to healthcare workers. The team flew over local hospitals, bringing attention and recognition to the work and sacrifices made by those in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. From there, the team was put in touch with stations across the state and performed additional salutes to healthcare workers in Winston-Salem and Charlotte.

For the Bandit Flight Team, using Raleigh Exec as a home base for its operations gives it the space and resources it needs to train and plan its events.

"Most of us store our airplanes there, and we use the briefing room to get prepared before our flights. It's close by, it's not crowded, and we don't have to deal with traffic delays," said Kilpatrick. "The airport is great and has wonderful facilities with a brand new terminal, and the people down there are nice and welcoming. It gives us the chance to get our guys together and gives them the capability to do what we do."

Since Raleigh Exec is also conveniently located near the middle of the state, it's easier for the Bandit Flight Team to navigate its way to events. Additionally, the airport has capabilities few other airports of its size have, making it simpler for the team to land during adverse weather conditions and take care of fueling and maintenance needs.

For Kilpatrick and the rest of the team, the resources at Raleigh Exec are a key component of its ability to complete its mission. In fulfilling its goal to bring honor and recognition to the military, the Bandit Flight Team is able to see the impact it makes on those watching and those it is honoring, creating lifelong memories for everyone involved.

"The one event that stands out for me is the Navy SEAL event. We do it every year and people come from around the country to support the Navy SEALs at an event down in Virginia Beach," said Kilpatrick. "We do the national anthem, and then we do the missing man salute for the Navy SEALs that have passed. I've gotten to be a huge Navy SEAL fan — what these guys do and their dedication and their sacrifice is tremendous."

"It's our mission to support our military men and women. That's what we want to do, and that's our focus, and Raleigh Exec has been a great airport for us to work out of."

This article was written for our sponsor, Raleigh Executive Jetport.

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