After being named the 2023 Seminole County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Wekiva Elementary School’s Julie Gabrovic was selected to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as part of their “Hometown Hero” program that honors deserving local people at the Orlando Air & Space Show. The event was held at the Constant Aviation terminal at the Orlando Sanford International Airport.
This past October 28th, Gabrovic experienced the ride of her life in the backseat of an F-16 with Thunderbird 8, Major Jacob Impellizzeri, as her pilot.
“I could not be more thrilled,” said Gabrovic after being selected to fly. “I am extremely honored to have been given this opportunity.”
Gabrovic has been teaching and leading at Wekiva Elementary for the past 21 years, while establishing herself to be well invested in the school and the community. She was noticed for her level of commitment to enhancing the school culture, enhancing classroom instruction, and connecting with students and their families. According to her fellow teachers, she also created and maintained an atmosphere that is conducive for the educational environment by supporting all of those around her each day.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headlined the 2022 Orlando Air & Space Show on October 29 and 30 at Orlando Sanford International Airport. The show featured the F-18 Rhino Demo Team, F-22 Raptor Demo Team, SOCOM Para-Commandos Parachute Team, and aerobatic pilots Michael Goulian, Buck Roetman, and John Black.
The U.S. Air Force added the F-22 Raptor Demo Team to the lineup to double headline the show with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The F-22 Raptor is the fastest and most maneuverable fighter jet in the world today. The F-22’s twin engines produce more thrust than any other fighter. Combined with its sleek aerodynamic design, this allows the F-22 to “Supercruise” at 1.5 times the speed of sound without using fuel consuming afterburner. The F-22’s unique thrust vectoring and advanced flight controls allow it to outmaneuver any other aircraft.
The F-22 Raptor demo consistently puts thrust vectoring on full display during its demonstrations, defying imagination as it climbs straight up, stops in mid-air, then reverses towards the ground before flipping the nose around in a summersault at near zero forward speed. The F-22 makes sharp, sudden turns displacing and compress air into vapor. Audiences often see the Raptor creating its own weather system with massive clouds that engulf the jet.
The U.S. Navy F-18F Super Hornet also soared over Orlando Sanford International Airport at the show. The Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet is a twin-engine fighter aircraft based on the original McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet also known as the “Legacy Hornet.” The Super Hornet is a larger and more advanced version of the legacy hornet. The Super Hornet has an internal 20-millimeter rotary cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. The Super Hornet entered service with the United States Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006.
Karen Aplin, who is the director of Seminole County Tourism, notes that the military-friendly county has one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the county. She likes the patriotism and child-friendly aspects of air shows.
“Both of my parents are veterans. They are now retired. My mother worked at the VA as a doctor,” said Aplin.
Part of the 2022 AirDotShow Live Tour, the Orlando Air & Space Show was the fifth destination on a six-show tour which also includes the Atlanta Air Show.
As part of the award, Gabrovic received a Teacher of the Year ring from Herff Jones, gifts from Universal Studios, Orlando Solar Bears, Orlando Magic and $1,000 from the Foundation for Seminole school system and a one-year lease from Subaru North Orlando.
“We’re partners with the air shows as well as with the airport the fact that we can come together and that entertains the visitors and the community, that’s what it’s all about. It’s an amazing experience. Lot of people who are veterans, millennials, children, interest in the military and air force, you know on the day of the event, they synchronize it with the event, it’s a dance in the air.”
Aplin recently interviewed with the air show’s marketing director, Chris Dirato, for her tourism podcast. She was surprised to learn that the talented pilots cannot hear the music as they perform their aerial choreography.
“They just know when the music changes,” Dirato said. “They know the timing. It shows how much they practice.”
“We love shooting the reactions of the teacher inflight,” Aplin continued. “Tends to be an enthusiastic teacher who is selected, but Gabrovic was so calm. I would be full of adrenaline.”
Florida Cruises Above
The Orlando area has been a hub for aviation tourism lately. The Orange County Convention Center hosted the National Business Aviation Association this past October.
Actress Monica Barbaro, who played Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace and Blue Angels Solo Pilot Frank Weisser Top Gun Maverick, were keynote speakers at the event. Barbaro described the intense training regimen that took her from her first pattern flight in a Cessna single to pulling as much as 7Gs in the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
“We looked for things to get us uncomfortable because we knew the filming of the movie was going to be so intense that we wouldn’t have any time to pick up the physicality of it,” said Barbaro. “We were really, intentionally, over trained. And yeah, it was an experience no one else in Hollywood ever gets. That’s for sure.”
Weisser drew laughs and applause when describing his experience in the makeup chair before filming.
“When I came in a woman asked,” ‘Who are you doubling for today?’ “And I said, I think you might have missed the point on this. I am not doubling as Tom; Tom is actually pretending to be us!”
Following her flight, Gabrovic was presented an autographed plaque while her family and friends looked on. Major Jacob Impellizzeri complimented her enthusiasm and stamina. The pair flew near the rocket launch pads around Cape Canaveral in Brevard County.
“We started bright and early,” Impellizzeri said. “I gave her the actual flight brief which is our meat and potatoes. We saw Falcon 9, which is still up on the launchpad. We pulled 9.3 Gs, and Julie wanted more!”
Gabrovic has three adult daughters, all of whom are in the military.
“My three daughters are so jealous,” Gabrovic said. “And so are my students!”
Misa Mills manages the Seminole County foundation. She said that recognizing quality teachers is one of her favorite tasks.
“Ms. Gabrovic is outstanding, Mills said. “In her recommendation letter, her peers said she’s not just part of the community – she is the community. Everyone knows her. She is also a coach at the high school.”
Impellizzeri was succinct in his assessment of Gabrovic as a flight partner, community member, and teacher.
“You crushed it!”
Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools is a direct support organization that serves to fund innovation in learning. Since inception, The Foundation has raised more than $20 million to help ensure that today’s students become tomorrow’s productive members of society. The Foundation funds and manage programs that address issues that inhibit a student’s opportunity to receive a quality education, enhance the learning environment and improve student performance, and provide professional education and acknowledgement.
(Video by Darrell Scattergood)
For more information about the Seminole County Public Schools Foundation, visit www.FoundationSCPS.org. For more information about the AirDotShow Live Tour and the Orlando Air & Space Show, please visit www.airandspaceshow.com.
To learn more about the National Business Aviation Association, visit www.nbaa.org.