Melissa Pemberton is often one of the only female pilots participating when her Edge 540 monoplane takes off to perform aerobatic maneuvers at air shows around the world.
"Unfortunately, I'm often the only one," said Pemberton, 29, of Groveland, Calif. "But that's why we do these shows. It's to encourage the next generation of pilots to come along."
This weekend, she will be one of the 12 high-flying acts aiming to inspire in the return of Airfest.
Aerobatic pilot Michael Goulian, 45, was scheduled to appear in the 2013 Airfest before it was canceled. When the organizers started talking about bringing the show back, Goulian was excited for his first trip back to MacDill since the '90s.
"We're excited to go back to what we call a mega show," Goulian said. "Over the years, they've done a great job with the show. For fans coming back, there will be different people flying than before, but it will only be better."
The GEICO Skytypers will be skywriting messages for sponsor GEICO and the Airfest around Tampa all weekend. Messages can be up to 32 characters, 1,500 feet tall and 8 miles across. They will also use their smoke to draw a heart in the sky before piercing it with the four-plane triangle formation, said spokeswoman Brenda Little.
The renowned Air Force Thunderbirds are closing the show both Saturday and Sunday, but Pemberton said the civilian acts are nothing short of world class themselves.
Pemberton said the entire airshow community welcomes the return of the military supported air shows and flight demonstration teams.
"We're absolutely thrilled to have the military involvement again," she said. "You can come out to see the out the civilian acts, but you notice when you're missing the military.
"The show is not the same without them."