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Thunderbirds flew at McChord shows five times since 1993 – and mingled once with a flock of vintage cars

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on April 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
April 23, 2010 3:53 pm

Writing about the Thunderbird-less Joint-Base Lewis McChord Air Expo July 17-18 got folks in our newsroom wondering exactly how many times the elite Air Force precision flying team has appeared in recent years.

The answer: FiveĀ  since 1993. That’s an average of about once every 3.5 years. To many, it just seems like they’ve been here more often because the Thunderbirds’ high-octane F-16 spins and roles, tight formations and seeming near misses at ear-splitting speeds are so memorable.

I’ve got my own indelible memories from the 1999 show. As members of the Rainier South Sound Vintage Thunderbird Club (cars, not airplanes) my husband and I were invited for special duty. Well, actually our cherry red 1963 T-Bird convertible got the coveted invitation. We came along for the ride.

Several members from our club cruised our vintage Ford T-Birds over to the McChord flightline, where they posed for photographs next to the Air Force’s flying variety.

Thunderbirds - vintage Ford vehicles and screaming fast Air Force aircraft - flock together on the McChord flightline during the 1999 Air Expo.

My husband, Ron, was among club members who drove their T-Birds across the field to pick up the pilots and deliver them to their aircraft prior to their performance. The pilots rode atop the back seats of the convertibles, waving to the crowd, parade style (or were those Beauty Queen Waves?)

Though the Thunderbirds of the flying variety won’t appear at this year’s McChord Field Air Expo, Maj. Ben Jonsson promisesĀ  an forgettable show with the Patriots Jet Team, a precision flying crew that performs “tail slides,” with aircraft backing down through the air. A variety of other acts will include strafing runs, paratroopers, C-17 demonstrations, vintage aircraft, a narrated dogfight and a stunt pilot who lands his small plane on a moving truck.

For the record, the Thunderbirds appeared at the 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2008 McChord air shows. The 1999 appearance was the first in six years, the Thunderbirds not having been to Tacoma since 1993.

The Thunderbirds didn’t make it to air shows in Tacoma They didn’t make it to the 2000 event. Air shows were canceled at McChord in 2002 (workload and security reasons); 2004 (runway work) and 2006 (Thunderbirds couldn’t make it, air crews were busy with War on Terror duties).

If you want to see them perform this year, you might plan a road trip to Spokane. They’ll be at Fairchild Air Force Base the weekend of July 24-25.

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