The International Air Show in Punta Gorda, Florida was unmistakably riveting. Held at the recently updated Charlotte Airport, which has flights by Legion Air Lines to select cities, the Sunday event could not have seen better nor more thrilling skies. The Thunderbirds, America’s Ambassadors in Blue, are from the United Sates Air Force and have existed from 1953 until present time; they are the stars of the show.
It began with parachute jumpers displaying flags as they descended from high in the sky, before the ground crowd of all ages. “Oh Canada” was sung first as the recognizable Canadian flag imparted, followed by the American flag, all 1500 square feet of old glory. Marchella Brown sang the Star Spangled Banner as landings upon the tarmac were graceful, performed with ease and made it look like anyone might be able to do just that.
2014 marks the 34th year of this Florida International Event with proceeds going to local charities in Southwest Florida. Over 500 volunteers worked and spent the week before getting this all together for the three day event. The International Air Show salutes veterans and this year, veteran Richard E. Cole, born in 1915, and enlisted in 1940 has received the pioneer award, The Muir Medal of Honor. The mayor of Charlotte proclaimed the day to be Richard E. Cole Day. He was in WWII, The Cold War and the Korean War as he bailed out over the mountains in China.
Aerial Aerobatics bring the oohs and ahhs to this show with unbelievable maneuverability. Skip Stewart, an aerobatic, aeronautical rock star delivered. He performed in his plane called ‘Prometheus’ hammerhead stalls, high up loops and stops as if there were no ground below. The entrance alone should have stopped the show and it did. A plane traveling sideways down the runway, physically a few feet off the ground like a dolphin through water. Anyone remember Flipper? One gets the feeling, he lives to perform; this definitely adds color and heartfelt love of aviation to the show.
The show continues with a hang-glider, who happens to have been paralyzed 30 years ago from an accident. Dan Buchanan’s graceful descent with flowing ribbons behind him were cut by the aerobatic Prometheus, as in a ribbon cutting ceremony. This was the first time the two performed together.
Pilot Scott Yoke, nicknamed Scooter flew the “Merlin” a plane built by Rolls Royce traveling at speeds from 300 mph to 480 mph in the war. It was designed by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and it was so precise the Americans adapted it. In Normandy on D Day, June 6, 1944 it flew with stripes on the plane, so the allied planes would be distinguishable. There were 15,000 of this type plane built with 160 still flying. Scott spent 16 years restoring his plane named “Quicksilver.” This B-12 is liquid cooled and has its own distinct sound.
The announcer at the 2014 International Air Show in Punta Gorda was Rob Reider. He has done 146 such Air Shows and is a pilot himself. He tells the crowd the trail smoke from the planes is environmentally friendly, it’s an oil used in concrete to keep from sticking.
The Texan, also called the Harvard is an army navy advanced trainer. This aircraft was used for advanced learning as the barrel roll alone produces a 1 G pull. As anticipation rises for the main event of the day, the Thunderbirds of the United States Air Force, the crowd quiets as a sail plane, flown by Major Michael Fisher descends to classical music at 200 mph. It only drops one foot for every 32 feet flown forward.
The brochure provides bios on all the United States Air Force Thunderbirds with their career highlights and hours in the cockpit. From Lieutenant Colonels, Majors and Captains one can see the presence of a lone female. Major Caroline Jensen, a right wing pilot, graduated from the US Air Force Academy after high school excellence in track and swimming. There are twelve talented pilots listed in the brochure.
‘From sea to shining sea’ the words from the song America was sung by the late Ray Charles, as the crowd watched on a beautiful sunny day amid swirled strands of windswept clouds. The Thunderbirds came out with speed and power and amazement. These F16’s are magnificent flying in the sky with precise controlled movement and formations at fast paced speeds.
There is wonder. There is pride. There is emotion.
The International Air Show in Punta Gorda was riveting and spectacular. The Thunderbirds ascended three miles in ten seconds; try that math. They flew in a Delta formation, a triangle and also made a heart. As they flew directly over the crowd and came in from every direction, one can’t help but feel the power and the protection of our armed services. This salute to veterans with a volunteer effort brought in $3 million to charities and put out a respect for our men and women who defend freedom here and around the globe.
By Kim Troike