Bluebonnet AirSho: Red Stripe MiG is a Memorial
BURNET — Though Greg Howell has been flying since the early 1980s, the first plane he’s ever owned is a Russian MiG-17 he purchased a few years ago.
“Most people start with a J-3 Cub, or something, but … the first plane I owned myself is a MiG,” he said with a laugh. If you’re going to buy a plane, go big — like a former Soviet bloc fighter jet.
Howell is no stranger to flying jets, including high-performance fighters. He flew the RF-4C Phantom while in the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s then a plethora of planes, including high-speed aerobatic craft. He’s also a 28-year veteran of Southwest Airlines, for which he still pilots.
Howell and his MiG-17, called the Red Stripe MiG, will be a main attraction during the Bluebonnet AirSho on Saturday, Sept. 8, at Kate Craddock Field, 2302 U.S. 281 South. Gates open at 9 a.m. The air show is 1-4 p.m.
Howell began working in 2009 with another pilot who owned a MiG, helping with maintenance during air shows and other events. The chance to purchase his own MiG came up in 2015.
“It was just an opportunity that presented itself, and I did it,” he said. “Now, I’m trying to make it work on the air show circuit.”
There’s a bit of irony in Howell flying a MiG-17. When he was in the Air Force and flying the F-4, the MiG was still in use by many Soviet bloc countries as late as the 1980s. Some people have asked him why he purchased a MiG, a plane that proved troublesome for U.S. pilots during the Vietnam War.
“Well, it’s a piece of history, for one thing,” he said.
Plus, he pointed out, if you go to Russia or former Soviet bloc countries, you won’t find them flying older American fighter jets. But you’ll find MiGs in the United States.
“We won the Cold War, and flying their planes is kind of like the spoils of the war,” he said.
Since he bought the MiG and started flying it, he’s had Vietnam War veterans come up to him and share their experiences regarding the plane. For many, he said, the first MiG they actually see up close is his.
Along with entertaining crowds during air shows and sharing the history of the jet — which features an afterburner and can top out at more than Mach I — Howell uses the plane to honor another man, the pilot after whom the plane is named: “Red Stripe.”
As Howell was developing his act, he thought about a bigger purpose. In 2017, his girlfriend, Lani Fitzgerald, took notice of the red stripe on the plane, which made her think of her friend Kiley Frederick’s late husband, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Jake Frederick, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot.
The captain died Dec. 8, 2016, after ejecting from his Hornet about 120 miles off the coast of Japan. He left behind his wife and their then-3-year-old son, Colt, and yet-to-be-born daughter, Mayley.
“What’s always amazed me about Kiley was her strength to get through the loss of Jake,” Howell said. “Jake was such an amazing leader in life and for his family and had a strong faith. And, I think it’s his strength that helps Kiley through this.”
Jake’s call sign was “Red Stripe.”
With Kiley’s blessing, Howell named his plane in honor of her husband.
But it’s more than a name. In his appearances, Howell shares Jake and Kiley’s story, one of love, commitment, dedication, and Christian faith. He’s added a decal to the side of the MiG that was designed in recognition of the Fredericks. It consists of a triangle around Jake’s patch with the names of Kiley, Colt, and Mayley at its corners.
“The triangle also represents the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Howell added, referring to the Holy Trinity.
Through proceeds he raises at air shows, Howell wants to create a scholarship fund for Colt and Mayley.
You can see the Red Stripe MiG during the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho, hosted by the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force. Tickets are $20 for general admission; $10 for ages 60 and older and military members with IDs; $5 for ages 6-17; and free for ages 5 and younger. Tickets and more information are available at bluebonnetairshow.com.
Go to redstripemig.com for more on Howell and his plane as well as Capt. Jake Frederick.
“The MiG is a different part of history than the U.S. warbirds like the P-51 or F-80,” Howell added. “I’m excited to bring the jet to Burnet and share the story of it and the story behind it with everyone.”
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