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AeroShell, historic warbirds to highlight Thunder in the Valley airshow

AeroShell Aerobatic Team will headline the Thunder in the Valley Airshow in April. (Charles Atkeison)

COLUMBUS, Ga. — High speed climbs and the power of America’s top aerobatic aircraft will echo across the Chattahoochee Valley in April during the 21st annual Thunder in the Valley air show.

As the city of Columbus celebrates its 190th anniversary year, the community is preparing for their largest air show as the warmth of the spring weather descends over the region. The two-day show is planned for the weekend of April 7 and 8 at the Columbus Airport.

“The Thunder in the Valley Air Show is a fun, family event that is tobacco-free and alcohol-free,” Event Coordinator Phaedra Childers said. “Activities include a kids carnival, helicopter rides, airplane rides and up-close experiences with modern, vintage and military aircraft.”

Team AeroShell to Triumph over the Valley

Topping the list of performers is AeroShell Aerobatic Team whose four AT-6 Texan aircraft will perform a four-ship flight demonstration each afternoon. The precision aerobatic maneuvers of these World War II trainers will demonstrate the actual maneuvers flown by the pilots of the Greatest Generation.

“When the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team takes to the skies at our air show, you’ll not only see it, you’ll hear it and feel it, too,” Childers said with a grin. “Powered by 600-horsepower radial engines, these North American T-6 Texans deliver a full-on dose of sensory overload.”

AeroShell’s pilots stand poised ready to begin their 2018 season over Columbus. (Charles Atkeison)

AeroShell’s four pilots — Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson, Bryan Regan, and Jimmy Fordham — will take to the skies performing flight profiles flown by the pilots 75 years ago as they trained during the war. For Steve, these aircraft were a testament to the war effort, and AeroShell’s flight is a salute to not only those pilots of yesteryear, but the ground crew and maintenance teams.

“These airplanes are all veterans of the military — they served their country and trained our pilots to fly,” Gustafson said from the flightline on Friday. “The instructor sat in the back seat and the student in the front. They had machine guns and rocketry and you taught them. They left their training in these aircraft and graduated up to the fighters, and then went straight into battle.”

Nicknamed the “Pilot Maker” by the wartime pilots, the T-6 Texan is the army’s variant to the Navy’s SNJ-2 or the United Kingdom’s Harvard. “We do the same thing as the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds except we do it in propeller driven airplanes,” he added. “We’re like the earlier version of that before we had all the jets.”

Columbus will mark AeroShell’s first show site for 2018 as their busy season ramps up to include performance at the nation’s largest airshows — EAA AirVenture and Oshkosh.

Warbirds, Warbirds, and more Warbirds

Pilot Jim Tobul’s F4U Corsair and Scott Yoak’s P-51D Mustang “Quicksilver” will take to the sky each day to pump up the aviation fans. These Class of ’45 warbirds will fly solo and later in tandem as they dance across the sky demonstrating maneuvers also flown by the pilots of yesteryear

Larry “Lunch” Labriola will pilot the rare sight of a Czechoslovakian L-39 Albatros Aero jet each afternoon. His army-green, tandem two-seat jet trainer will provide the thrust across the airfield each afternoon as he performs several of his favorite maneuvers.

Larry Labriola will pilot his Czech L-39 Albatros jet during April’s Thunder in the Valley. (Atkeison)

Also returning to the valley is Jason Newburg and his modified Pitts S2S biplane. Known as the Viper, Jason will perform a flight demonstration which will include a low-level pass as he races with the Dallas Riders motorcycle team.

Ticket sales from the non-profit air show will benefit local youth organizations and charities. Following the 2017 air show, Thunder organizers donated nearly $65,000 to youth groups and scouts.

“The mission of the air show is to promote education in aviation and raise funds for youth organizations throughout the Chattahoochee Valley,” Ms. Childers added. “The Thunder in the Valley Air Show is managed and operated by more than 300 volunteers each year, and brings in top performers from across the United States, all paid for by local and regional supporters.”

The top air show in the region, Thunder in the Valley has become the area’s top outdoor family event each year drawing in a growing number of attendees each year. Gates will open at 10:00 a.m. each day with several preshow events set to begin at two hours later. The air show will begin at 1:00 p.m.

Tickets remain available online at a discounted rate of $10 for guests seven and up. Childers added that tickets will also be available at the gate.

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)


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Charles Atkeison

Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.

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