From Viral to Rhino

Fourteen years ago, as a recent high school graduate, Wes Perkins, EAA 857219, attended EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and put together a video for his YouTube channel. 

“I’m a big fan of aviation videography and videos and media. I started doing it and just filming air shows. Got an old camera from my neighbor, I think. He just gave me an old camera that he was throwing away and I just started filming air shows around central Texas. Took it up to Oshkosh,” he explained. “2009 was the one that went viral. But back in 2007, I just filmed Oshkosh and put it to music and thought it was really cool and just kept doing it. And then for some reason, and I don’t really know why, 2009 was just really popular. It just kind of took off.”

In the relatively early days of social media, Wes had gone “viral.” It left such an impression that EAA staff members who were around in 2009 still remember that video. Back then, Wes attended AirVenture with his dad, flying in from Georgetown, Texas, in the family’s Piper Clipper. Born into an aviation family, Oshkosh had been part of Wes’ life since he first attended in 1997.

“I’ve been flying my whole life,” he said. “I soloed gliders when I was 14, soloed my dad’s airplanes when I was 16, so a Piper Clipper and a Mini-Max. And then when I was 17, got my license, flew those two aircraft, and also finished my Pitts. So my dad and I are homebuilders.

“We used to fly up in the Clipper from Central Texas every year, my dad and I did, and we’d camp for 10 days. We’d show up like the Thursday before the event started, and we’d stay until typically the Sunday morning of the last day.”

Sadly, the last time Wes attended AirVenture was 2014. He’s returning in 2023, and he’ll be doing it in something just a little flashier than a Clipper — a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, Wes, call sign “Trash Blast’er,” is the pilot and team lead of the West Coast Rhino Demo Team, which is performing at AirVenture 2023. 

Commissioning in the Navy out of Texas A&M in 2014, Wes worked his way through flight training, flying the T-6 Texan II and T-45 Goshawk, eventually learning to fly the Super Hornet with VFA-122 at NAS Lemoore in California in 2017-18. Growing up going to air shows, Wes dreamed of one day becoming a Hornet pilot.

“I grew up seeing F-18s, and I thought it was the coolest plane. I think it’s the greatest airplane out there. It’s my favorite thing to fly. Well, it’s my favorite thing to fly next to my Pitts at home. Don’t get me wrong; I love general aviation a lot, but I love flying the F-18. 

It’s a wonderful airplane, and that’s what I grew up seeing with the Blues and with the West Coast demo team coming to Texas quite a bit.”

 Following flight training, Wes “patched” with VFA-25, the Fist of the Fleet (also located at Lemoore), and deployed on the USS Abraham Lincoln for 10 months. 

After returning from his tour, among other things, Wes became an instructor in the F/A-18 and crossed the street back to VFA-122 for his next tour, following more than three years with VFA-25. Instructing for the past two years, Wes was named the team lead for the West Coast Rhino Demo Team this past December — selected by his peers on the previous year’s team. Wes said to expect a demonstration that showcases the Super Hornet to its fullest. 

“We demonstrate the airplane to its maximum capabilities,” he said. “So the edges of the envelope, aside from breaking the sound barriers, we go right up to it on the high-speed passes. And our big goal — and this is actually brought to us by Boeing — it’s kind of the mindset behind the team is that we never go outside of 3 miles and we keep the show as tight as possible, and all our repositions are in front of the 

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