Polytech Panther returns home for Thunder Over Dover
Story by Roland Balik on 09/13/2019
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. F-22 Raptor dedicated crew chief Staff Sgt. Zach Zistl, local 2012 Polytech High School graduate, returned to his hometown as a member of the F-22 demonstration team for the Thunder Over Dover 2019 open house Sept. 14-15, 2019.
This year’s air show will feature two F-22 Raptors, which arrived from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, to Dover AFB Sept. 12, 2019.
As a dedicated crew chief, coming back to Dover is doubly special for this aircraft maintainer.
“Being able to return to my hometown as part of the Raptor demonstration team has been a dream of my life for this entire season,” said Zistl.
Having family in the local area is an additional bonus.
“My family lives 15 minutes away from Dover AFB, Delaware, and some of my greatest memories was going to one of the local airshows as a kid.”
Reflecting back on his upbringing in the First State, Zistl stated “Growing up in an Air Force town, it was always cool to sit in the backyard and watch the airplanes flying overhead all the time.”
On Thursday, after securing the two Raptors, the demonstration team made their first of three stops at Zistl’s alma mater, where they shared their experiences in the Air Force with the students.
“As a crew chief, it’s my job [sic] to fix and maintain this aircraft, as well as perform preflight and postflight inspections,” said Zistl.
Zistl has been an F-22 dedicated crew chief for more than five years, and this year is his first year on the demo team.
“It’s definitely a job that can be challenging lots of long hours, working in the weather all the time,” said Zistl.
“But seeing a jet you fix and have it fly the next morning, that’s a feeling like nothing else,”
For Zistl, being a crew chief runs in the family.
“My dad retired out of Dover AFB as a crew chief,” said Zistl. “I grew up with him telling me stories about working on the flight line and being able to travel all over the world. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest inspirations I had about joining the Air Force.”
Being a maintainer builds bonds with those behind the stick.
“The relationship with the pilot is probably one of the coolest things about this job,” said Zistl. “There’s a lot of trust built up between the days in and days out of fixing and flying these aircraft.”
In a video played for an audience of over 100 students, Zistl gave his fellow Polytech Panthers some advice:
“Find self-satisfaction in everything you do, have a good work ethic, and give it everything you got.”
As part of their community engagement activities, the team also made stops at Dover High School in Dover and Caesar Rodney High School in Camden.