For F-16 pilot, 26, Alabama National Guard hospital flyover was personal

For F-16 pilot, 26, Alabama National Guard hospital flyover was personal
May 5, 2020; Auburn, AL, USA; Red Tails perform a flyover for healthcare workers at EAMC. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics (Source: Shanna Lockwood/Shanna Lockwood/AU Athletics)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama National Guard put on a show in the air on Tuesday in support of the medical professionals and first responders in the fight against the coronavirus. Hundreds of nurses and doctors throughout the state took a break and looked up to see a grateful ‘salute.’

Aircraft from the 187th Fighter Wing based out of Dannelly Field in Montgomery and the 117th Air Refueling Wing based out of Birmingham honored health care workers, first responders, essential employees and all others serving to support COVID-19 response efforts.

The F-16s roared over Jackson and Baptist hospitals in Montgomery and just about every other medical center in Alabama, and commanding one of those 28,000 pound jets was pilot Rob Mercado.

“And wanted to thank all the health care professionals for keeping us safe during this time," the 26-year-old said.

Mercado and five of his fellow pilots took off from Dannelly Field in Montgomery and went their separate ways.

At just 26, Rob Mercado was among the pilots taking part in Tuesday's F-16 flyover of Alabama's hospitals to salute those fighting COVID-19.
At just 26, Rob Mercado was among the pilots taking part in Tuesday's F-16 flyover of Alabama's hospitals to salute those fighting COVID-19. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Before the flyovers, Mercado and his fellow pilots spent some time training, which included getting refueled in mid-air about 50 miles west of Montgomery.

Then, Mercado’s assignment? A 10-minute trip to Mobile and Dothan. Four hospitals from a thousand feet above, going at a slow speed of 350 miles an hour!

“You know it is a little difficult because you want to be very close in position so it will look good for everybody on the ground, so it requires a lot of concentration with very fine motor skills to look good for everyone on the ground,” said Mercado.

For this pilot, it was about much more than a flyover. It was personal; two people dear to his heart.

“It hits home to me and my mom and sister. They’re both nurses. It was great. I wish they could have been down here to see it,” he said.

Once he landed back home, the fighter pilot thought more about the very people fighting a different kind of war on the ground and the victory he is certain will come.

“We can do as much as we can for them since they are doing so much for us,” he said.

The Alabama National Guard said these operational training missions are being conducted as part of the nationwide Air Force Salutes flyover under Operation American Resolve.

Viewers are encouraged to tag the Alabama National Guard, the 187th FW, and the 117th ARW using the hashtags #WeSaluteAlabama, #AirForceSalutes and #TogetherAL in photos and videos of the flyover.

PHOTO GALLERY

Copyright 2020 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.