By Frances Wang

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After rehearsals, pilots, sponsors and supporters of the Fort Lauderdale Air Show kicked off the weekend at Piazza Italia on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale for the ‘TAKE OFF’ party.

An instant fan favorite was a preview air show playing on the restaurants ‘sky’, a virtual reality screen ceiling.

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“Oh I loved that,” said Steve Salmirs, a pilot with the GEICO Skytypers air show team. “I used to fly a F-16 [and] that was showing at the time I came in. What a great idea.”

Salmirs has flown in the Fort Lauderdale Air Show before, but South Florida’s geography makes his experience memorable each time.

“There’s a lot more water here,” said Salmirs. “The buildings, the hotels right along the beach.”

JetBlue pilot Scott Farnsworth is a first-timer to this show, but he is based here, which makes this weekend extremely special. It also adds a little bit of friendly peer pressure!

“[About] 350 pilots out here critiquing me,” said Farnsworth. “They’re gonna sit there and bash on me a little bit. It’s the pilot way. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t love me.”

Rehearsals already has Farnsworth amped up.

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“As I’m coming out on top of a loop [at] 6000 feet, there is crystal clear Florida water,” said Farnsworth. “A shoreline beach…just amazing. Can’t tell you how excited I am.”

Both Salmirs and Farnsworth are passionate pilots. Both have dreamed of flying since they were kids.

“At 8-years-old, I wrote a little note to my parents. I still have it its framed…basically it said ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be a pilot?'” said Salmirs. “I still have the letter and the same feelings.”

Farnsworth said he has wanted to be a pilot for as long as he can remember.

“From the earliest moments of my life, I drew pictures of an airplanes,” said Farnsworth.

This weekend, all the pilots will have tens of thousands of eyeballs on them flying high, and they know that in the crowds, might be a kid they inspire to reach for the sky.

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“It’s incredible,” said Salmirs. “You never know who you really touch.”

Frances Wang