By Natalie Adams
On Saturday, September 16 and Sunday, September 17, the United States Air Force celebrated their 70th anniversary (1947-present) by holding an air show at Joint Base Andrews, a military facility in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
The show consisted of several performances by demonstration teams, such as the Air Force Thunderbirds, the Army Golden Knights, and the Geico Skytypers. Various planes and fire trucks were on display, including F-15’s, F-16’s, A-10’s, B-1’s, and an Anne Arundel County fire engine.
The Thunderbirds are one of only three aerial demonstration teams sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Defense, the other two being the Army Golden Knights and the Navy Blue Angels. The Thunderbirds were established just six years after the creation of the Air Force, on May 25, 1953. They have flown several types of planes over the years, but currently fly F-16’s.
The team is composed of 12 officers. Thunderbirds 1 through 6 are pilots, Thunderbird 7 is the operations officer, Thunderbird 8 is the advance pilot and narrator, and Thunderbirds 9 through 12 are support officers.
To join the team, officers must have served at least three years in the Air Force. After that, they serve on the team for around three to four years. New members must learn the history, heritage, life, mission, and policies of the Thunderbirds, and are given an oral exam about those topics by another team member before receiving their patch and coin.
The Thunderbirds’ performance was the finale of the day. The performing team members were Lieutenant Colonel Jason Heard, the leader, Major Ryan Bodenheimer, the left wing, Major Nate Hofmann, the right wing, Major Nick Krajicek, the slot, Major Alex Turner, the lead solo, and Major Whit Collins, the opposing solo. They performed for a period of about 30 minutes. In that time, the team’s expert aircraft control shined through as they executed maneuvers such as the Diamond Opener. They demonstrated the Air Force’s renowned precision with signature moves of the likes of the Delta Burst.
The Army Golden Knights are another aerial demonstration team sanctioned by the U.S. department of defense, but instead of flying planes like the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, they are a parachute team.
The Golden Knights are world-renowned, having won over 400 national championships, over 60 world championships, multiple team championships, almost 2,150 gold medals, about 1,120 silver medals, approximately 700 bronze medals, and have broken almost 350 world records.
At the air show, the Golden Knights Gold Team performed. The team is comprised of SPT Alex Bahry, SSG Blake Gaynor, SGT Dustin Gebhart, SSG Morgan George, SFC Steve Green, SPC Nicholas Grimm, SFC Brian Krast, SSG Mike Koch, SGT Dan Osorio, SSG Brandon Parra, SFC Keith Pierce SFC Roman Grijalva, SSG Jacob Kerkow, and SGT Dustin Gebhart.
Their performance lasted approximately 30 minutes. The team performed multiple jumps, including individual, when one team member jumps at a time, group, when four members jump at the same time and must have absolute control over their descent and landing to avoid collisions, and tandem, when two members jump and descend together, but must precisely break apart for landing. Every jumper executed their jump safely, correctly, and was able to land directly in the drop zone.
The Geico Skytypers are an aviation team that fly six vintage SNJ World War Two aircraft. The team was started by Mort Arken, a former naval aviator.
The team is made up of 13 pilots, most of which are former military aviators and some of which currently work for major commercial airlines. Members include Larry Arken, the commanding officer, flight lead, and son of Mort Arken, Chris Thomas, a wing pilot, Ken Johansen, the executive officer and a wing pilot, Chris Orr, the slot pilot, Steve Salmirs, the senior lead solo, Tom Daly, the lead solo, Kevin Sinibaldi, the opposing solo, Bob Johansen, the formation instructor and navigation planner, Jim Record, the advance pilot and ground operations officer, Steve Kapur, the marketing officer, Mike Eberhardt, a wing pilot, Rob Steo, a pilot, and Dino Peros, the alternating opposing solo.
The length of their performance was about about 30 minutes. During that time, the team demonstrated the dependability of their planes, even seven decades after their time, and the precision required from the pilots to fly vintage planes.
Aside from the air show, a variety of activities were available for children and adults, including a rock wall, a trampoline, and hearing tests. Several recruiters were stationed throughout the airfield from all branches of the military to answer questions and encourage people to serve their country by joining the military. Food vendors were scattered throughout the event, selling everything from ice cream to hamburgers to barbecue to gyros.
While arriving to the event, visitors were not permitted to park their cars on base, requiring them to park at FedEx Field and take a 20 minute bus ride to the base. When the show ended at approximately four o’clock, visitors formed lines to board the buses and ride back to FedEx Field, but were still allowed to walk around and see the planes.
Departing visitors were able to enjoy a band’s performance while waiting in line for the buses, as the wait time was about 20 minutes to three hours. The band was comprised of five active military members. They sang and played the guitar, the bass, the violin, the flute, the keyboard, and the drums. A set of songs had been organized prior to their performance, but the band started taking requests from visitors once they ran out of songs to play.