Flying three feet apart at 500 miles per hour takes a lot of training
The U.S. Thunderbirds will perform over the Mississippi Sound in F-16 Fighting Falcons over a beachfront “stadium” after smaller air shows with precision performances take place at Keelser Air Force Base on May 4-5.
Officials announced more details and performances for “Thunder Over The Sound: The Keesler and Biloxi Air and Space Show” on Tuesday at the Biloxi Visitor’s Center.
This is the Thunderbirds’ first show in Biloxi in four years.
“It will be a unique, two-day air show and the first time a base and a city have jointly put on an air show,” said Col. Lance Burnett, 81st Training Wing Vice commander at Keesler.
Other performances include the Twin Tigers’ Yak ‘55s — the 2019 International Council on Air Shows Platinum Pinnacle Award winner in the civilian performer category. The tiger-striped planes perform acrobatics.
There’s also shows by the Wild Blue Rodeo’s RV-8, billed as aircraft that wants to be a fighter jet by day and a cop car at night, and Jeremy Holt Airshow’s Pegasus Biplane, a vintage, ultralight airplane.
You can also see the Smoke N’ Thunder Jet Truck, a twin jet engine ‘57 Chevy pickup capable of speeds of 350 mph and higher, the Scott Francis Air Show’s MXS (only one of 12 in existence), the Greg Koontz & the Alabama Boys’ Xtreme Super Decathlon and a 1946 Piper J3-Cl, often called the world’s most iconic airplane.
The Thunderbirds will fly over the water and the beachfront south of the White Avenue Gate starting at 1 p.m. both days.
Other events and activities are being planned, and will be announced later.
Gates at Keesler open at 7:30 a.m., offering static displays, a kids’ zone with inflatables and obstacle courses, and air shows on base start at 8:30 a.m. One of the ground displays is a Mobile Interactive Aviation Museum with A-7 and F-110 cockpits you can climb in.
The events are free, and shuttle buses will take attendees from casino parking lots to Keesler, where only people with base access will be allowed to enter unattended at the White Avenue gate.
“I’m looking forward to it for my kids and grandkids,” said Biloxi Mayor Andrew “Fo Fo” Gilich, who spent time growing up around “the airfield,” now Keesler Air Force Base.
The show originally had been scheduled for April 13-14, the same weekend as spring break at Biloxi Black Beach Weekend at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Those dates were canceled to avoid conflicts with scheduled Coast events.
The Blue Angels performed over the Sound in July, drawing about 150,000 people and another 1,000 boaters to “Blues Over Biloxi,” Gillich said. The Blue Angels are the Navy’s flight demonstration squad, which uses Navy and Marine pilots.
About the ‘birds
Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the Air Force. It’s a 12-officer squadron with eight pilots, four support officers, four civilians and more than 100 enlisted personnel who perform different related jobs.
Pilots designated as Thunderbirds #1 through #6 do the actual flying, taking F-16 fighter planes on intricate maneuvers and aerobatic formations, at times flying within three feet of each other.
The Thunderbirds fly up to 500 to 600 mph, up to 15,000 feet and can fly as low as 200 to 300 feet above water, according to pilots Maj. Branden “Ash” Felker, who is the new Thunderbird #8, and outgoing #8 Maj. Jason “Flack” Markzon. Thunderbird #8 prepares for shows in advance, and flies the area in a two-seater plane days before a show to map out the area.
What you can bring
Attendees can take small purses, small diaper bags (for diaper and formula/breast-feeding supplies only), camera, video cameras, phones, folding chairs, strollers and wagons and food, which must be hand-carried (no coolers.)
Here’s the list of prohibited items:
- Unmanned aircraft systems (drones)
- Bicycle coolers
- Large purses and tote bags
- Large camera bags
- Hover boards
- Edged Weapons (such as knives, P38 can openers or sharp tools)
- Umbrellas or popup tents