Air Force Thunderbirds to Headline Great Tennessee Airshow

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds practice maneuvers on May 25, 2021, in preparation for their upcoming air show performances. (U.S.A.F.)

SMYRNA, Tenn. — The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s F-35C Lightning II will join top civilian aerobatic aircraft this weekend performing at The Great Tennessee Airshow.

The Thunderbirds return to middle Tennessee for the first time in ten years on June 5 and 6. The squadron’s six F-16C Fighting Falcon jets demonstrate high speed passes and dynamic maneuvers each afternoon.

Lead by commander Col. John Caldwell, the Thunderbirds new season is highlighted by an entirely different performance from previous years. Air show guests will witness their new ground show and aerial maneuvers over Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport.

“We are very excited about the changes we have made to our show and ground performance,” Col. Caldwell explained on Monday. “One of our main goals was to take a look at our show sequence and enhance the design with the crowd experience in mind.”

The Thunderbirds added two new maneuvers to their thirty-minute demonstration. Every show will see the Low Bomb Burst with Hit; and during the six-ship low and flat shows is the Stinger Cross Break.

“The crowd will feel the thunder in their chest by hearing the jets roar, seeing the speed, seeing the motion, and seeing the precision of our team while flying 18-inches apart,” Col. Caldwell added.

U.S. Navy’s Newest Fighter Jets to Perform

Two of the Navy’s flight demonstration teams are also slated to perform, the EA-18G Growler and the F-35C Lightning II. A flyover of Nashville by the two teams is planned for Thursday.

Two U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers perform over Melbourne, Florida in April 2021. (Charles A Atkeison)

The Navy’s EA-18G Growler jets, a newer variant of the F/A-18 Hornet, are scheduled to perform each day. Expect two Growlers to perform together on Saturday and Sunday.

Two of the Navy’s F-35Cs will take to the skies to perform a 15 minute demonstration. The fifth-generation stealth fighters will also fly in formation with an F4U-4 Corsair for the Navy’s Legacy Flight.

“Our squadron is an F-35C training squadron at NAS Lemoore and our mission is to train warfighters to go out to the fleet,” Navy Lt. Dave “Strokes” Hinkle explained to “We find holes in our training schedule to attend air shows like The Great Tennessee Airshow.”

Air show guests can get up close with several of today’s aircraft on display. The Knoxville Guard’s KC-135, a Memphis Guard C-17, a V-22 Osprey, and a T-38 are just a few of the static aircraft.

Flight line and box seat ticket packages are sold online only and will not be sold at the gate. The air show will is a reduced-capacity event due to COVID, and no general admission tickets will be sold.

“While many other major events in the region have either canceled or postponed due to COVID, we are thrilled with our decision to move forward and present such a top-rate air show that aviation fans have come to expect here,” John Black, executive director of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority said.

Gates will open at 8 a.m. and the opening ceremonies are expected to begin at 11:30 a.m.

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