A 30-year-old former South Medford High School student came home in style Friday.
Lt. Jed "Smoka" Johnson, a U.S. Navy pilot, zoomed into the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport Friday afternoon at the controls of an F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.
Johnson's mother, Cindy Johnson, his father, Bob, and other family members were there to greet him, along with a group of local youngsters.
"It's good to be home," said Johnson, as he shook hands and gave hugs.
Johnson, who has had three combat tours — two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — was formerly based on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, but he's now-land based in Southern California.
Johnson stopped at the Medford airport for refueling on his way to Seattle. The trip from Southern California took about 50 minutes, he said. He followed the coastline, flying about 200 feet off the Pacific Ocean and moving over 600 miles per hour.
"I came across the Siskiyous and saw Mount Ashland, then made it around Mount McLoughlin before landing," Johnson said. "That made me smile."
A small group of kids and their families got a guided tour of the aircraft and peppered Johnson with questions.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet sits 16 feet high, 60.3 feet long, has a wingspan of 44.9 feet and weighs 66,000 pounds. While the aircraft has a top speed of Mach 1.8, Johnson says he has never gone that fast.
"The fastest I've taken it is Mach 1.2," he said, in answer to a question from one of the youngsters.
The fighter jet, with a price tag of $57 million, is the aircraft used by the Blue Angles demonstration team.
After a one-hour visit and his plane was refilled with more than 4,000 pounds of jet fuel, Johnson walked onto the tarmac, conducted a pre-flight checklist and closed the canopy.
After firing up the engines, Johnson gave the thumbs up to his mother and blasted into the air, leaving bystanders covering their ears.
Reach freelance writer Andy Atkinson at email@example.com.