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Thunderbirds MBJ MGM

The Thunderbirds Return to Montgomery Skies

By Jennifer S. Kornegay
Photos Courtesy of UASF Thunderbirds

With its first Air Show and Open House in years, Maxwell Air Force Base is inviting the entire community to its “home” in April. The event will celebrate and honor the Air Force and the role it continues to play in Montgomery’s climbing economic trajectory.

This spring, for the first time in seven years, thousands of River Region residents and visitors will have their heads tilted back, staring skyward in anticipation. They’ll hear it before they see it, but then it soars into view: an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet emblazoned with patriotic red, white and blue, a member of the Air Force’s fighter demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds. The team, created in 1953 to showcase “the pride and precision of today’s Air Force,” will be the main attraction at Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air Show and Open House on April 8 and 9.

This is not the Thunderbirds’ first visit to Mont-gomery. In years past their presence at Maxwell AFB’s air shows has proven spectacular, with no shortage of thrills. The flips and dips of aerial acrobatics, the precise formations and other flying feats, all performed at stellar speed by highly skilled pilots, consistently elicit “oohs,” “aahs” and gasps.

While it’s packed with excitement and exhilaration for all ages, the air show means so much more. According to Dawn Hathcock, Chamber Vice President, Convention and Visitor Bureau and Brand Development, the economic impact of the event for Montgomery in terms of tourism should skyrocket. “The base is predicting close to 100,000 folks at this show, and while not all of them will be from out of town, if even half are visitors, that is huge,” she said.

“We’ve put together some weekend packages that include tickets to the Biscuits baseball team’s opening weekend and the Clint Black concert at The Alabama Shakespeare Festival as a way to maximize and highlight everything the city has to offer this spring.” 

The air show and open house also honors and celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United States Air Force and has a focus on the 100th anniversary of our country’s entry into WWI, which took place on April 6, 1917. According to Col. Doug DeMaio, Vice Commander of the Lemay Center and air show director, the event serves several of the Air Force’s missions. “The Air Force hosts open houses to enhance the public awareness of Air Force preparedness, to demonstrate modern weapon systems and capabilities, to promote positive community and international relations, to showcase our Airmen and to support Air Force recruiting and retention,” he said.   

And it puts a bright spotlight on Maxwell and its powerful legacy. “Maxwell has a rich history as the center of Airpower thought, and Air University commands the highest regard of our senior leaders and allies as a leader in military strategy, concepts and education,” DeMaio said. “That both the Thunderbirds and the Patrouille de France will be at the show this year is a testament to the respect for Maxwell Air Force Base and the River Region.”


MAXWELL–GUNTER-MONTGOMERY/A RICH HERITAGE

Maxwell AFB’s air shows are always full of high-flying fun, but this event holds a special significance as it highlights the beginnings of powered flight in Alabama. Our state has been a major player in the aviation and aerospace accomplishments of the last century, and it began in Montgomery. On March 26, 1910, when the Wright brothers — the famous “fathers of flight” — established a civilian flying school in the capital city on land that is now part of Maxwell, the first powered flight in Alabama took place. And the Chamber played a role in the brothers locating here. Chamber officials made them feel welcome, helped them find the land they needed and strike the right deal. Though the Wright’s school lasted only a short time, its presence set the stage for things to come, including the decision to locate Maxwell in Montgomery. Our state has since become a hub of aviation and aerospace technology advancements and manufacturing as well as military aviation. And in Montgomery, the military presence contributes an estimated $2.6 billion to the local economy annually. It also adds 38,395 engaged citizens to our community.


BACKWARD & FORWARD

THUNDERBIRD HISTORY IN THE MAKING:
A Thunderbirds air demonstration is a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The pilots perform approximately 40 maneuvers in a demonstration.

More than 280 million people in all 50 states and 57 foreign countries have seen the red, white and blue Thunderbirds jets  in more than 3,500 aerial demonstrations.


A F-35 UPDATE / SOAR ON

Montgomery has made the final five in the selection process for the F-35, and is now preparing for the next phase of the process. Leading the charge is an F-35 Task Force, formed by Mayor Todd Strange and chaired by Leslie Sanders, Vice President Southern Division Alabama Power Company. Landing the F-35 would have a dramatic effect on the entire state. There is much to gain: a hugely positive economic impact and a stronger, more secure future for Air National Guard units across Alabama. Plus, it would provide a new level to our part in the Tuskegee Airmen legacy. The 187th Fighter Wing is home to the 100th Fighter Squadron, which is one of the original Tuskegee units—the famous Red Tails.

In addition to the Thunderbirds, Pa-trouille de France, the French Air Force’s demonstration team, will per-form, and the Montgomery show will be the first the team has performed at in the United States since 1986. Other aircraft flying include military fighter air-craft, an assortment of WWII Warbirds and several aerobatic performers. 

And there’s plenty to see on the ground too. Static exhibits of vintage aircraft from WWI and WWII as well as spacecraft displays combine with other activities like aviation-related ground demonstrations to create all-day en-tertainment, and it’s all absolutely free. 

Attending the open house and air show deserves a spot on your cal-endar for the guaranteed good time alone, but it’s also a way to support the base that gives so much to our com-munity, as Hathcock explained. “We should all take pride in being recog-nized ‘The Best Hometown in the Air Force’, and live up to that,” she said. “At the Chamber, we want to support and showcase all that Maxwell does. We love our loud, fast airplanes here!”


HOST WITH THE MOST

Montgomery and Maxwell Air Force base have always been close partners, and the capital city is proud to have a military institution of such stature as part of its community. In 2015, the warm welcome and strong support that Montgomery has consistently provided to all who live and work at Maxwell earned the city a presti-gious national award, the Altus Trophy. The city has also been named “The Best Hometown in the Air Force.” 

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