Airman keeps air show family heritage flying

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Holly Mansfield
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Recollections of going to air shows as a child fill retired Capt. Shawn Burke's childhood memories.

The grasp of his dad's hand helped guide him through not just air shows but also his Air Force career.

When Burke attends the 2015 Keesler Air Show/Open House March 28, it will be his tenth air show since he was 7-years old.

Burke, a former 335th Training Squadron weather officer course instructor, remembers that first air show with his dad at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in 1977.

"I remember watching one of the inaugural flights of the F-15 Eagle," said Burke. "It was low overcast, and I was thinking they wouldn't be able to fly. Sure enough, the F-15 took off and went straight into a vertical climb. It did a corkscrew right through the clouds, and then the sun came through. I remember thinking 'Wow! That's the coolest thing ever!'"

His dad took him up into the air traffic control tower to see some of the aircraft flying in the air show that day, according to Burke. It impacted and helped him decide he wanted to follow in his father and grandfather's footsteps by pursuing a career in the Air Force.

Both his grandfather and dad were involved in aircraft operations during their time in the military. His grandfather retired Air Force Master Sgt. Joseph P. Burke Sr., was a World War II veteran who briefed bomber pilots on their missions. Burke Sr.'s intelligence team was tasked with briefing such notable World War II heroes as Generals Jimmy Doolittle and Earle E. Partridge.

For Burke, one of his favorite air shows was the last one he attended with his grandfather in 2007 at Shepherd AFB, Texas.

"They had one of the heritage flights with the P-51 Mustang, A-10 Warthog and F-16 Fighting Falcon," said Burke. "It was all of the different aircraft from across the ages. It was pretty amazing. My grandfather loved every minute of it. He was constantly saying, 'Look at that!' Every time he saw the American flag he would stop, salute and say 'That's a beautiful sight right there.' He's very patriotic."

Going to air shows has become a part of Burke's family history.

Spanning four generations, Burke continues the tradition with his own children.

"At my first air show at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, I was little, but I felt amazed at the different types of planes, and it made me want to become a pilot," said Liam Burke, the captain's son. "Going to air shows with my dad does make me excited because the interest in flight and engineering is common between us. The best part of an air show is the blatant jumps in technology from each one I go to. I remember seeing the F-22 Raptor when it was first introduced. Its capabilities compared to the previous fighters are amazing."

"I am proud of our Air Force heritage," the captain said. "All of the Air Force's innovative technology has put us on the cutting edge of air power."

Thirty-eight years after walking onto the Eglin flight line for his first air show, Burke closed out the chapter of his life as an Airman when he retired Jan. 12.

With his own Air Force history book completed, he now can guide his son through their air show family heritage.