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Wright State alumnus’ Air Force ROTC experience prepared him to excite and inspire

Flying has been in Air Force Maj. Jake “Primo” Impellizzeri’s blood for his entire life. His grandfather and father served in the U.S. Air Force. His dad flew a C-130 for 10 years and recently retired as a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines. So as long as he could remember Impellizzeri’s always wanted to be a pilot.

“I’ve had the aviation bug my entire life,” said Impellizzeri.

The Wright State University graduate’s passion for flying led him to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as the pilot of the number 4 red, white and blue Block 52 F-16 fighter jet. The powerful plane produces 29,000 pounds of thrust, which Impellizzeri says produces more power than an entire Dayton 500 NASCAR race.

“I’m biased, but the F-16 is the greatest fighter jet in the world,” he said.

For the past two years, Impellizzeri has performed dangerous and gravity-defying maneuvers in over 80 airshows per year. Impellizzeri is the number 4 plane and the bottom part of the world-famous diamond formation in which four Thunderbird pilots fly only 18 inches from each plane’s wings.

Impellizzeri credits Wright State for helping him transition from high school in Cincinnati to college. He graduated from Wright State in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and from the Wright State Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps program.

“It was a combination of Wright State and the ROTC detachment that kind of prepared me for my military career life that I’m doing right now,” he said.

After graduation, Impellizzeri moved to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, for pilot training. That’s where he was introduced to the F-16 fighter jet.

Maj. Jake “Primo” Impellizzeri arrives at the Columbus Air Show. (Photo by Erin Pence)

“We are sitting so far in front of the nose tire that it feels like you’re riding on a tip of a pencil,” said Impellizzeri. “When you’re up there you feel free.”

Impellizzeri is in his final year as a Thunderbird pilot. He hopes that his time performing acrobatic maneuvers at airshows around the country has sparked a passion in aviation in young kids.

“We are really here to inspire and showcase the professionalism and the inspiration piece is huge for us,” he said.

If you’re lucky, you may get an opportunity to fly with Impellizzeri just not with the Thunderbirds. He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps and work for Delta Airlines when his mission is complete.

To see a schedule of this year’s Air Force Thunderbirds performances visit

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