You won’t see the Thunderbirds dive and spin in the skies over Tacoma this summer.
For one of the few times in recent memory, the Air Force’s elite flying team isn’t performing at the area’s military air expo.
But you won’t miss them, say Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials, who promise a show bursting with aerobatics, stunts, tail-sliding jets, a narrated dogfight, a pilot who lands his small plane on a moving truck, paratroopers, choppers, McChord’s signature C-17s, vintage aircraft and more.
Oh, and there’ll be a flyover by a Cold War-era U-2 spy plane.
The two-day JBLM Air Expo is set for July 17 and 18 at McChord Field. It will be the biggest event at the joint base this year.
The free shows, once held annually and now roughly every two years, are highly popular. In 2008, a recorded 377,616 people flooded the base over the two days of the expo.
“You’re going to get an air show like you haven’t seen before at McChord,” said Maj. Ben Jonsson, a C-17 instructor pilot who’s directing this year’s event. “We’ve put a lot of effort into making it something special.”
Under the theme “America’s Air Power in Action,” the event will showcase aircraft from various military services and of many vintages and celebrate the merger of noncombat operations at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base earlier this year.
The Patriots Jet Team, a civilian precision flying group led by an ex-Thunderbird pilot, will headline the show, Jonsson said. Among the teams tricks is a “tail slide,” in which the four L-39 jets drop backwards toward the ground.
It’s not unusual to see prop aircraft do that, but it’s unheard of for jets, said JBLM spokesman Bud McKay.
“It’s an incredible thing to see.”
Though the schedule is still evolving, Jonsson said the preliminary list of acts and events includes:
• Opening act: An airfield assault demonstration in which A10 Thunderbolt aircraft make a strafing pass; helicopters – likely AH-1 Cobras – join in the show; C-17s in formation drop Army and Air Force paratroopers; and an aircraft drops a high-altitude jumper who unfurls an American Flag for the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
• Jacquie B: She flies the “Red Eagle” Pitts Special Biplane, trailing smoke as she climbs, and executes stunts and rolls over the field.
• Ken Pietsch: His stunts include landing his 1942 Interstate Cadet on a moving truck.
• P-51 Redtail: The restored Tuskegee Airmen’s World War II aircraft will perform and pay tribute to the group of pioneering black pilots and air crews.
• Old and new: Vintage and current aircraft from the Navy fly in formation together in one set; vintage and current aircraft from the Air Force form up for another.
• MiG Fury: Two MiGs in a narrated dogfight with an FJ-4 Fury.
• Ground displays featuring a variety of aircraft and vehicles including Stryker and MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicles.
The Patriots Jet Team will close the show, Jonsson said.
Though the Thunderbirds have been a high-octane fixture at McChord air shows for years, they’ll be in Duluth, Minn., the weekend of the JBLM event.
If you really want to catch ‘em, they’ll be flying the next weekend – July 24-25 – at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane.
McChord Field didn’t get the Thunderbirds in the highly competitive process to secure a spot on their schedule, McKay said.
“We tried,” he added. Even without them, he said, “We have just a fantastic lineup, basically an all-star lineup.”
Here’s a copy of the press release issued by the base today:
April 22, 2010
JBLM Air Expo 2010 sequel already in full production for July 17-18
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – The opening of Joint Base Lewis-McChord‟s
Air Expo 2010, held July 17-18 at McChord Field, is being scripted like a
Hollywood movie. Luckily, that script isn‟t being guarded like a top secret
military document. With the excitement of a screenwriter pitching his
first-ever script to producers, Maj. Ben Jonsson, air expo director,
promises the opening of the air expo is going to be “explosive.”
“It will be a combination of Air Force and Army members working together to
demonstrate a full-fledged airfield assault,” the major said. “An A-10
„Warthog‟ will demonstrate Air Force firepower simulating strafing the
field, followed by Air Force special operators and Army personnel rappelling
from helicopters or jumping out of a three-ship C-17 formation.”
Add special effects on the ground – explosives, simulated ground fire and
smoke — the general public will get just a taste of the precision the two
military powers train and fight with. And that‟s the whole reason for the
air expo – demonstrate to the general public the expertise in military
training the Airmen and Soldiers from the joint base posses and to thank the
community for their support.
The air expo is free and open to the general public. Gates open at 8 a.m.,
and the flying begins at 10:30 a.m.
“Together we get a chance to show that we give the nation a real,
world-class military force – not just separate units – but a truly strong
joint capability,” Major Jonsson said.
In February, McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis merged into Joint Base
Lewis-McChord. Expecting a weekend crowd of about 300,000, the air expo will
be the joint base‟s largest event for the year. Major Jonsson said there
will be scores of static aircraft and other displays for folks to enjoy, as
well as food, souvenirs and services.
In the air, the sky will be alive with some of the top military and civilian
pilots in the country. The marquee act for this year‟s air expo is the
Patriots Jet Team. The Patriots Jet Team‟s L-39s electrify spectators with
fast-paced formation flying, choreographed four-ship diamond formation
aerobatic maneuvers and their signature “Tail Slide” where the aircraft
actually slides backwards toward the ground, something not performed by any
other jet demonstration team.
Of course the home team‟s C-17 Globemaster III, will put on its impressive
tactical demonstration in addition to the opening three-ship formation. A
Navy F-18 will put on its ear rattling tactical demonstration as it teeters
on the edge of the sound barrier right in front of the spectators. An Air
Force U-2 will make a rare cameo appearance in an airshow and perform a
For historical buffs, the Air Force Heritage Flight features an A-10, F-4
Phantom, F-86 and possibly a P-51. The Navy Legacy flight will feature the
F-18 and the F4J Fury. The F4J Fury will also be in dual roles as it will be
in an incredible MiG-17F and MiG-15bis vs F4J dogfight demonstration as part
of “MiG Fury.”
“We‟re also honoring some great World War II pioneers in American military
aviation,” Major Jonsson said. “We have members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the
first African-American military airmen, and the Women Airforce Service
Pilots attending. These heroes and heroines are living history. What an
honor to have them at the air expo.”
There are some “lighter acts” performing as well. Bill Braack, who retired
from McChord‟s Air Force Reserve, will race his USO Jet Car against a T-33
in a dual in jet-engine power. Also, Kent Pietsch, flies a comedy act, which
includes a variety of critical aircraft components “falling off” his 1942
Interstate Cadet airplane – in mid-air.
“We literally have something for everyone,” Major Jonsson said.
This year‟s air expo has a lot to live up to as the 2008 event drew a record
377,616 people. But that also provided a great resource on lessons learned
to make the 2010 show even better.
“Traffic flow and parking are key areas we‟re trying to improve on,” Major
Jonsson said. “We‟re planning out very detailed designs to come up with the
best flow that we can. The other major areas we‟re planning very thoroughly
are in services and safety. We are turning a part of the airfield into a
„mini-Air City‟ with the services and needs people have as well as ensuring
it‟s safe and accessible for our community guests.”
As with any major event, there are plenty of sponsorship opportunities
available to help offset the costs of the air expo. Businesses interested in
being a part of this free, major family event can call the air expo office
at 253-982-6026 to get more information.
The air expo’s website should be up and running on May 1. The site is
located at www.lewismcchordairexpo.com.