VALDOSTA, Ga. — The Air Force Thunderbirds and the crowd favorite A-10 Warthog will headline this weekend’s Thunder Over South Georgia air and space expo from Moody, Air Force Base.
As the Air Force celebrates it’s 70th anniversary, much of the aircraft flying and on static display are air force aircraft — both past and present. From the F-16 Viper to the P-51D Mustang, and including the hulking C-17 Globemaster III, the Moody airshow will be packed with aviation excitement and family friendly events.
Home to the 23rd Wing, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, Moody prepares and trains some 5,400 military and civilian personnel. It is also home to the A-10C, C-130J, and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter which are combat ready.
“This event is free and open to the public and features acts from the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and will also host more than 15 static displays,” said Tech Sgt. Zachary Wolf of the 23rd Wing.
The top draw of this airshow will be America’s Ambassadors in Blue known by the public as the Thunderbirds. Performing dynamic aerial maneuvers in close formation or as solos, the squadron’s six pilots demonstrate the handling characteristics of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Lead by LT. Col. Jason Heard piloting the Thunderbird 1 jet. The six demonstration pilots include left wing pilot Major Ryan Bodenheimer aboard Thunderbird 2, Thunderbird 3 right wing Major Nate Hoffman, slot pilot Major Nick Krajicek in jet 4, and Major Alex Turner and Major Whit Collins performing as lead and opposing solos in jets 5 and 6.
On Thursday afternoon, eight Thunderbirds F-16 jets arrived at Moody followed by two C-130 Hercules loaded with supplies and spare parts for the red, white, and blue jets. About 65 Thunderbirds maintainers and support personnel also arrived aboard the C-130s.
“We’re at the culmination of the end of our season,” said Thunderbird 4 pilot Maj. Krajicek on Thursday from the flightline. “We’re a team of 120 individuals who have come together, and it’s an incredible team, and it somewhat becomes your family as we’re on the road 220 to 240 days a year.”
Major Collins, the Thunderbirds opposing solo pilot and Georgia native, expressed his love for waving out at the airshow crowds as he flies. Collins is wrapping up his first season with the team, and will move up to lead solo in 2018.
“As a soloist, since I’m flying by myself most of the time, during my repositions, I fly with my right hand and my left hand’s power, I’ll reach up and wave to people all the time,” Maj. Collins exclaimed with a grin on Thursday. “My hope is they are at work the next day telling people, ‘I swear he was waving at me’. But, if you’re out there, I really do wave.”
Collins, who grew up in an Air Force family, was further inspired to become a pilot at age 10. “I went to an airshow at Warner Robbins, Georgia, there I met a Thunderbird. I told him I wanted to grow up to fly airplanes, and he looked at me and he said, ‘you’ll grow up and be a great pilot one day’. And, that really lite a fire to me. So, when it came time when I was an air force pilot, I have the opportunity where I can give that back, and to tell the youth of America they can do anything thy put their minds to it.”
Tuskegee Exhibit will be featured
The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit will be on display both days. It highlights the historic contributions of the first African-American military pilots during World War II. The Commemorative Air Force supports the traveling exhibit.
“World War II and the service of these American heroes may be slipping farther into the past, but the lessons to be learned from the Tuskegee Airmen are timeless,” said Bill Shepard. Bill is a CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and CAF Vice President of Education. “We know there are so many people who are passionate about the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
Gates will open at 9:00 a.m. each day, and the opening ceremonies will begin at about 11:30 a.m. with the Wings of Blue parachute team. Both admission and parking are free.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)