For as long as he can remember, Mark Sucato dreamed of flying airplanes.
When he was in grade school, his teacher asked each member of the class to draw a self-portrait. In Sucato's, he was wearing a flight suit. He watched movies and read books that featured airplanes, and he continually cast his thoughts forward to the day he would be able to climb into the cockpit of a fighter jet.
Little did he know that his chance would come much sooner than he expected.
Sucato’s father took him to the Texas State Fair in the late 1970s when Sucato was only 8 or 9 years old. There, amid the livestock, food booths and craft tents, was an A-10 Thunderbolt — a jet aircraft like the one Sucato dreamed of flying.
He didn’t get to fly the plane that day, of course, but he did get to sit in the cockpit of the single-seat jet. When he gripped the throttle and imagined rocketing through the sky at the speed of sound, it cemented his plans.
Sucato was going to be a pilot.
He earned admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1990, and he was commissioned in 1994. Since then, he’s flown military missions around the world. And now, he’s Capt. Mark Sucato, commanding officer of the Naval Air Station Joint Base Reserve Base New Orleans in Belle Chasse.
The seeds of his career path were planted even before he first decided he wanted to be a pilot. Sucato is third generation military on both his mother's and father’s sides, and in particular, his father and both of his grandfathers were in the Navy.
“I still get to fly, so I’m very fortunate,” said Sucato, 45. “As CO here, there is quite a bit of the business side of things that needs attention, but every day is different. And some of those days have me in the air.”
Sucato is hoping the 2017 New Orleans Air Show presented by Chevron elicits similar passion in its guests. As many as 100,000 people are expected to attend each day of the air show, being held April 22-23 at NASJRB-NO in Belle Chasse. The event is free and open to the public.
The popular New Orleans Air Show first was held in 1958, but it has been on hiatus since 2011 for budgetary reasons. Sucato is thrilled to see it return.
“The reasons for having the air show are simple,” Sucato said. “It’s a way for taxpayers to see how their money is being spent, of course. But it’s also about public outreach, which is extremely important to us.”
There will be much to see (and hear) at the New Orleans Air Show. Starting with a parachute team dropping in to present the colors each day at 10 a.m. and ending with a show by the spectacular Blue Angels flight demonstration team in the midafternoon, the theme will include anything having to do with aviation.
In the air, jets will scream by at nearly the speed of sound ( ear plugs are offered on site). On the ground, aircraft both old and new will be on display
for viewing, touching and photographing. And it’s quite possible that guests might be able to get into the cockpit of one, much like Sucato did nearly 40 years ago.
In addition to the sights and sounds of aircraft, there will be ample food and drink options, and the Sony Playstation Truck will be on site. There also will be an additional Kids’ Zone with paintball, a rock wall, an obstacle course, bounce house and more. Participation bands will be sold for entry to the Kids’ Zone.
Ample free parking is available. Follow signs to designated parking areas. A full list of permitted and restricted items, as well as maps to the base, and information on all performers can be found online at neworleansairshow.com.