Eyes Skyward as Pilots, Planes Perform
October 10, 2015
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  • Grand Valley residents had to peer through clouds of smoke and oftentimes had to cover their ears, but the thousands of people who attended the Grand Junction Air Show on Saturday weren’t disappointed in what they saw and heard.

    From refurbished Japanese Zeros attacking make-believe targets on the ground, to old-style biplanes doing loop-de-loops overhead, the show drew plenty of aviation enthusiasts.

    Some spectators were often distracted by some of the other, more stagnant attractions of the group — from aviation simulators to the food court — yet all eyes were skyward when the featured attraction came up, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

    Spectators were able to see some precision maneuvers from the six colorful, red, white and blue F-16s that roared past them.

    Those moves included the calypso and reflection passes, in which one plane flies seemingly inches from another, to the ever-popular delta and high bomb bursts that feature four to six planes flying in unison and then breaking apart, white smoke trailing behind.

    In addition to the six main pilots, there are two others: Thunderbird 7 is the team’s operations officer, and Thunderbird 8 is the advance pilot and narrator. Two other officers also serve on the team as Thunderbirds 9 and 10. They are the team’s flight surgeon and executive officer. The team also has 120 enlisted personnel, who do more than just maintain the aircraft.

    Thunderbird pilots generally serve two-year tours on the team, but many return for more than one tour.

    The team does a show almost every weekend starting in mid-March. This weekend’s show was the 29th of the year. It has four more shows this year, in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.

    Beyond the Thunderbirds attraction, one of the more popular shows with the Grand Valley crowd was the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” re-creation of the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    The re-enactment uses refurbished Mitsubishi “Zeros” along with other Japanese planes of the era, the Aichi “Val” and the Nakajima “Kate,” as well as U.S. fighters such as the Curtis “Warhawk” and the North American Aviation P-51, also known as the “Mustang.”

    The re-enactment is meant to remind people about the historic event, which is why the group’s motto is, “Lest We Forget.”

    Other performers included the Rocky Mountain Renegades, The Stearman, Wild Horse Aviation and the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue, which is a demonstration parachute team that also performs in jumping competitions.