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Thunderbirds arrive at Scott Air Force Base with, well, a thunderous sound

Thunderbirds are go! — this weekend at Scott Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will perform at Scott Air Force Base this weekend. Admission and parking are free.
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The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will perform at Scott Air Force Base this weekend. Admission and parking are free.

On their first fly-by, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds surprise you as they scream low over Scott Air Force Base.

On other routes, they start as a speck and then roar by with a thunderous sound. That’s how they marked their arrival Thursday for this weekend’s Scott Air Force Base Air Show and Open House.

“If it didn’t get your heart rate going, I don’t know what’s going to get your heart rate going,” said Col. Laura Lenderman, commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which provides support to all the missions based at Scott. “It was fabulous. It’s almost like their calling card, letting everybody know they are in town. It was neat.”

Scott has not hosted an air show for five years, but base leaders lined up this show to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the base.

“We are excited to open the gates for the first time in five years,” Lenderman said. “This is a big deal, and this is a capstone event for the centennial celebration year, and we’re just excited to showcase 100 years of air power to the public.”

If it didn’t get your heart rate going, I don’t know what’s going to get your heart rate going.

Col. Laura Lenderman, after the Thunderbirds flew low over Scott Air Force Base

Maj. Ryan Bodenheimer, the left wing pilot for the Thunderbirds, said the F-16 Fighting Falcon can fly three miles straight up without slowing down.

“These F-16s are just pure, raw power and speed and intensity,” Bodenheimer said.

That was part of Bodenheimer’s answer when asked to compare his team, the Thunderbirds, with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. He said the two teams recently met to exchange ideas. He noted the Blue Angels fly the F/A-18, which has better slow speed handling characteristics than the F-16, but he encouraged area residents to check out the power of the Thunderbirds’ display.

Bodenheimer, 32, flew fighter jets for about eight years before he was selected for the demonstration team.

“The real mission is to inspire people,” Bodenheimer said. “We go around the country; we’re given the keys to these aircraft to go out and entertain and inspire our nation.”

“I realized there was an opportunity to contribute to inspiring those people to make themselves better; it was a no-brainer for me to apply to the team.”

These F-16s are just pure, raw power and speed and intensity.

Maj. Ryan Bodenheimer, the left wing pilot for the Thunderbirds

For one of the pilots of the Thunderbirds, the Scott Air Force Base show is somewhat of a homecoming.

Maj. Nate Hofmann grew up in Rockford and graduated from the University of Illinois. Hofmann looks forward to this weekend’s show because his wife, Jennifer, who usually doesn’t travel to the airshows across the country, will be able to see the show at Scott while the couple’s children are with their grandparents in Rockford.

Master Sgt. Chrissy Best, a spokeswoman for the Thunderbirds, said the pilots fly in formation only 3 feet apart and can get within 18 inches of each other. Eight Thunderbirds are on the base, and six pilots are scheduled to fly during this weekend’s shows at speeds ranging from 500 mph to 720 mph. Best said the pilots conducted a site survey Thursday to prepare for the weekend’s shows.

Organizers expect 50,000 to 60,000 people to attend the Scott Air Force Base Airshow featuring the Thunderbirds on Saturday and Sunday.

It will include both flying demonstrations, as well as many aircraft on display.

“They’ll see the ramp chock full of aircraft,” said Maj. Marc Meier, the airshow director. “We have 46 to 50 static (planes), but the entire ramp will be full of aircraft.”

People will be able to walk through some of the cargo planes and look inside some of the fighter jets, which will have their canopies open.

Meier said airshows help serve as recruiting tools and allow the base to show what happens at Scott Air Force Base to the community.

“It’s a great tool to show case what we do at Scott, showcase the Air Force, as well as the other sister services that we have. Show (people) what we do,” Meier said. “They’re the ones who are paying for it, so we need to show them what we do. They get to see the capability of what we do.”

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The airshow is slated to included fighter jets and cargo planes, among other types of aircraft. The Black Daggers parachute team is scheduled to perform.

Along with marking the 100th year anniversary for Scott Air Force Base, the show is taking place in the year the Air Force acknowledges its 70th anniversary. Scott Field was established in 1917 as part of the U.S. Army and became an Air Force base in 1948.

“We wanted to make it special. The last five years or so, we’ve had sequestration, funding issues, so they cut out a lot of the airshow money,” Meier said. “We wanted to kick it off, with the start of it again. Hopefully we’ll have it every two years from this point on, if there’s no funding issues. We want to kick it off with the best we can show.”

Organizers recommend people take MetroLink to get to Scott Air Force Base during the airshow. Riders should travel to the Shiloh-Scott station, where free shuttles will take them to the flight line for the show.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Scott Air Force Base 2017 Airshow & Open House

Admission and parking are free. Here’s the schedule for both Saturday and Sunday:

▪  9 a.m.: Gates open

▪  11:15 a.m.: Opening ceremony; C-21, C-40, KC-135 fly-by; JN-4 fly-by; T-33 “Acemaker”; B-2 fly-by; C-17 Globemaster

▪  12:35 p.m. - Tora, Tora, Tora; P-51 Mustang; F/A-18 Super Hornet

▪  1:40 p.m. - U.S. Army Black Daggers; Kevin Coleman; MiG-17

▪  2:30 p.m. - U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

▪  5 p.m. - Airshow & Open House ends

Here’s what you need to know about the event:

▪  Base leaders recommend you take MetroLink to the Shiloh-Scott station, where free buses will take you to the show.

▪  Motorists headed to the base via Exit 19A off Interstate 64 or via Illinois 161 will be directed to any one of a combination of gates for entry.

▪  Along with the performing aircraft, visitors will be able to view several static aircraft displays, including an A-10 Thunderbolt II, a C-130 Hercules, a B-1 and an F-15E Strike Eagle. However, a World War II era B-17 bomber scheduled to be on display this weekend will not be at the airshow because the plane needed unexpected maintenance in Kansas.

▪  Backpacks, coolers and hard-sided water bottles are prohibited.

▪  You can bring plastic water bottles, cameras, binoculars, strollers and lawn chairs.

▪  Ear plugs, sun screen and comfortable shoes are recommended.

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