MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Rows of vendors saturated the fairgrounds with the smell of freshly-grilled meat. Visitors filled their bellies with the local cuisine and posed with various aircraft static displays, loading their phone with keepsake photos.
Some winced at the ear-piercing jets as they flew over, but one little boy maintained complete focus. Every twist and turn of the aircraft in the cotton candy-colored sky left a mark in his mind and vivid impression on his heart as he developed an lasting admiration for flying.
Capt. Jacob “Primo” Impellizzeri, the Pacific Air Forces F-16 Fighting Falcon Demonstration Team commander and pilot, grew up attending countless aerial performances, resulting in a passion for aviation.
Impellizzeri travelled annually from his hometown in, Cincinnati, Ohio, to the Dayton Air Show in Vandalia, Ohio, with his mother, father, brother and sister.
“Those air shows were the spark that ignited my future,” Impellizzeri explained. “Combined with my family’s influence, I realized I was destined to be a fighter pilot.”
Impellizzeri comes from a long line of officers and enlisted service members. In his youth, he idolized one influential aviator in particular, former Capt. Ken Impellizzeri, or “dad” for short.
“My father was an Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules pilot for 10 years,” explained Impellizzeri. “His love for flying inspired me to turn my own passion for aviation into a reality.”
In high school, Impellizzeri began attending flight and ground school to earn his private pilot license.
“I essentially had no ‘off days’ during that time in my life,” Impellizzeri chuckled. “However, my jam-packed school schedule never bothered me because I wanted to be there.”
Post-high school graduation, Impellizzeri completed four years with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio, earning his private pilot license and a pilot slot with the U.S. Air Force.
The 56-week Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and a specialized F-16 program at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, may have prepared him for a one and a half-year short tour in South Korea, but in 2016, Impellizzeri received orders to Misawa Air Base, Japan.
“I didn’t even know we had a demo team here,” laughed Impellizzeri. “One day while I was waiting at the end of the runway for takeoff, I got a glimpse of the previous demo team pilot, Maj. Richard “Punch” Smeeding, practicing his aerial performance. I felt nostalgic and absolutely blown away by his demonstration. I knew, in that moment, I had to be a part of the demo team.”
Impellizzeri completed instructor pilot training to get the demonstration pilot upgrade which included more than 20 rides, an in-person interview with his leadership and a certification ride with the PACAF commander to qualify for the position.
“I was used to seeing Smeeding perform, but watching Impellizzeri in his first solo flight was probably one of my proudest moments to date,” explained Master Sgt. Jeff Parker, the PACAF F-16 Demonstration Team superintendent. “His improvement from those first few flights to today has been an amazing progression to see.”
Not only did Impellizzeri grow from a fresh pilot to a seasoned performer, he also experienced a “full circle” moment.
“Today marks my one year anniversary as the PACAF F-16 Demo Team pilot,” Impellizzeri expressed with gratitude pouring over each sentence. “I went from being a five-year-old kid idolizing pilots to living it. I attribute my success to a combination of luck, drive, timing and incredible support from my family, friends and teammates.”
Impellizzeri oversees a team of three crew chiefs, two avionics specialists, one electrical and engineering specialist, one engines maintainer, safety observer and superintendent who also enjoys his leadership.
"The captain's work ethic is impeccable,” expressed Parker. “He’s a great leader. He consistently displays professionalism and care, making work with him a great pleasure.”
Not only is Impellizzeri close with his teammates, but he maintains that same strong connection with his daily pilot duties.
“Flying these powerful aircraft is an amazing feeling; it’s like an extension of my body,” he said as his auburn eyes gazed upward. “The bubble canopy gives a 360-degree point of view of the world. It’s almost indescribable, but it’s the ultimate freedom.”
Although Impellizzeri is a world traveler, one piece of him he never forgets to pack is his admiration and love for those he cherishes.
“My friends, family members and faith keep me resilient,” he explained. “The values and passion I have as an aviator stems from the strong background of hard working men and women I’ve known.”
Impellizzeri’s positive circle of influences aids in his own personal love of soaring the sky.
“I want to fly for as long as I possibly can,” he gushed. “Not only do I have the opportunity to fly the F-16 to its maximum potential, but I get to show people all around the world just how incredible the airframe is. I find an immense amount of pleasure in flying, so wherever that takes me, I will go.”
Impellizzeri has nurtured a daydream into a flourishing reality that allows him to represent PACAF and spread trust and cohesion across the Indo-Pacific and U.S. allies.