'It's going to be an amazing year': Shaw Viper Demo Team commander, members, community celebrating 5 decades of the F-16


"Anything that kind of went somewhere else, whether it was boats, cars, planes" is how Capt. Taylor "FEMA" Hiester described his fascinations as a kid. "I got to the airplane phase, and I never grew out of it."

Now, as the new commander of Shaw Air Force Base's F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, Hiester will get to share his love of planes with the community, more so than he already has his whole life.

The Robesonia, Pennsylvania, native, who's been based at Shaw for a year-and-a-half now, will take his team, as they do every year, to air shows and audiences across North America, displaying the capabilities of the F-16 fighter jet. Their 2024 show season started last month and runs through November.

However, more than his excitement of showing off "the perfect fighter jet," as he describes, is Hiester's desire to connect with the communities they visit and inspire, both young and old.

"Connecting with the American public if I had to sum it down is what I would say I'm most excited for," he said. "My hope as the commander is that we will inspire everybody we meet to serve their community - whether they consider that to be their country or their town or their school. I think America will become a better place if we can just inspire them to be a part of something bigger than themselves."

Hiester won't do it alone, though, as his small team will equally serve a role in not only preparing, promoting and executing air shows, but also serving as ambassadors for Air Combat Command and the greater Air Force and Department of Defense.

"I think the people of Sumter would be really proud and shocked to realize that it's only anywhere between 8 to 10 people that make that happen," Hiester said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the F-16. It's a milestone special to many but especially for Hiester, who grew up with models of the plane his son still plays with now.

"To be in the right place at the right time. To have the good fortune to be the demonstration pilot when we're celebrating five decades of a very special airplane. It's going to be an amazing year," he said.