The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Thunderbirds in for air show

The Cannon event is slated 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.


May 25, 2018

David Grieder

The Thunderbirds aircraft line up after performing a short demonstration and aerial evaluation of their performance space Thursday afternoon at Cannon Air Force Base.

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — The Thunderbirds are on tour, and they landed Thursday outside Clovis just in time for this weekend's biennial air show on base.

"America's Ambassadors in Blue" are just one of many attractions scheduled for "Air Commandos on the High Plains," free and running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

"We are very eager to get our doors open," said Lt. Col. Chris Hodgin, Director of the 2018 Air Show, Space and Tech Fest.

The U.S. Air Force's official air demonstration team arrived in spectacular formation Thursday afternoon directly from Colorado Springs, where it put on a showcase at the Air Force Academy graduation. It was a relatively short flight for the experienced fighter pilots, but the trip marked one of the more dramatic venue juxtapositions on a schedule that started February at Daytona Beach and lasts until November.

"Every site offers its unique challenges," Thunderbirds Leader/Commander Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh told The News, comparing the mountainous landscape in Colorado with the high-altitude but level terrain of eastern New Mexico, "arguably the flattest" place where the team holds its demonstrations.

All the less obstruction, then, to see the dramatic group and individual aerial acrobatics of the F-16 jets. The hour-long show will include demonstrations of the "full capabilities" of the aircraft as well as precision flying in close proximity, Walsh said.

In other words, spectators can look forward to some loops and rolls, upside down flying and other marvelous maneuvers, all at speeds ranging from 200 to 600 miles per hour. They can't go much faster than that without breaking the sound barrier. It's a highly visual and auditory experience, recalling the "wild blue yonder" and "heckuva roar" celebrated in "The Air Force Song."

The Thunderbird team includes 120 enlisted personnel, 24 maintenance specialists and a few civilian coordinators; yet at its core are 12 officers, unofficially designated by their "call sign," according to a media packet from the base. Thunderbirds 1-6 fly in the air shows, led this year by Walsh in position number one. He is now in his third year with the Thunderbirds, having started in position 7 as the team's operations officer and excited to return to Cannon this weekend to lead the afternoon demonstrations.

Today the team will visit in the morning on base with schoolchildren, hold a practice demonstration in the afternoon and attend a public relations event on base in the evening. This weekend, they take center stage above a tarmac hosting multiple static displays and showcases of aircraft and teams special to Cannon.

Also on schedule among performers are the Royal Canadian Air Force F-18 Demo team and SOCOM Para-Commandos jump team, both scheduled for the early afternoon before the Thunderbirds hit the skies.

In a statement to the media Thursday morning, Hodgin said the weekend was intended as a platform for thanking the surrounding communities outside Cannon and showcasing some of the base's unique capabilities.

Hodgin also highlighted the scheduled 10 a.m. appearance of the MQ-9 Reaper, reflecting one of "very few" air show demonstrations of a remote-piloted aircraft, as well as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math exhibit set up with the "understanding that our young folks are technologically savvier than we ever will be."

As technology goes, look out for displays of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robot as well as "a medical mannequin that sweats and bleeds to provide realistic medical training," according to a message from 27th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Stewart Hammons.

"This year we celebrate the long-standing partnership between Cannon Air Force Base and the High Plains community," Hammons wrote. "This is our opportunity to say 'thank you' for all of your support and give you a chance to experience the Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command mission."

Cannon's Media Chief John Rebello said the weekend would be fun for the whole family, with food aplenty and a bounce house for children. Temperatures are expected in the 90s, so don't skimp on the sunscreen or water. Weapons, backpacks, drugs, alcohol and coolers are not permitted.


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