Harrison County

Keesler activities a hit before air show’s weather cancelation. Here’s a sneak peak for Sunday.

There’s still one more day to catch the Thunder Over the Sound. Here’s a sneak peak.

The Thunderbirds practice their stunts thousands of feet above the Mississippi Sound on Friday, ahead of the air show in Biloxi.
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The Thunderbirds practice their stunts thousands of feet above the Mississippi Sound on Friday, ahead of the air show in Biloxi.

A line of strong thunderstorms Saturday chased thousands of people from Keesler Air Force Base and grounded the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, which were scheduled to fly over the beach during Thunder Over the Sound.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a mostly sunny Sunday with a high of 80 degrees — perfect air show weather. The activities begin at 8:30 a.m. Sunday at Keesler and move to the beach at 1 p.m. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to fly at around 3:30 p.m.

A variety of aerial demonstrations are scheduled, including the Army’s Black Daggers special ops parachute team, a variety of planes and a jet truck that will race one of the planes down the runway.

Trojan Thunder, which Paul Walter describes as “old-school Thunderbirds,” is a team made up of pilots from all over the country who came to perform for the first time at Keesler. It was snowing when Walter left home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“There are six of us,” he said, who fly the T-28 Trojans powered by 1,400 horsepower engines out of B17 planes. “We get together about 12 to 13 times a year,” he said, and fly the planes that were made as trainers after World War II and were used in Vietnam, Laos and the Congo.

The static displays were very popular Saturday before the show was canceled by threatening weather. The displays are spread out, giving kids the chance to climb aboard a Blackhawk helicopter and explore the interior of a Hurricane Hunter at another area. They were wowed by robots and NASA displays that filled a hangar with STEM activities. In between are more displays, activities and food trucks.

Evan Seay of Gulfport reached his arms inside astronaut gloves and said it was harder than he thought it would be to maneuver because of the vacuum in space. “It’s pretty fun,” he said of the hands-on exhibits . “I’m thinking about going into the military.”

The air show is all about inspiration and the link between the Air Force and the communities of the Coast.

Little kids gazed in awe at Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commander of the Thunderbirds, during a meet-and-greet at Keesler on Friday night.

Caldwell, who flies jet No. 1, said when he was a kid he went to his first air show at Forth Smith in Arkansas and remembers seeing the Thunderbirds in 1984.

“It really inspired me to be a pilot,” he said. The Thunderbird mission is “very gratifying, humbling,” for the eight pilots, he said, who will perform at more than 70 airshows this year and are on the road — and most of that time in the sky — for 240 days a year.

That’s a lot of time spent away from family during the two-year assignment but Caldwell said, “I think they understand the importance and uniqueness.”

Rather than time away from home, ‘”We think of it as one cool opportunity,” said, Maj. Ray Geoffroy, public affairs officer for the squadron. Biloxi is the Thunderbird’s first show over water this year. The season generally runs from March through November — longer than hurricane season — and occasionally one of those hurricanes will play havoc with their schedule, he said.

Bringing the Thunderbirds to a community gives the public a chance to see the skills of the pilots and have confidence that the United States has the greatest military in the world, he said.

This is the second air show over the beach in Biloxi in less than a year and was a unique partnership between the base and the city.

These airshows like the Blue Angels team that flew in July and now the Thunderbirds, “It really brings the whole sense of the military and the pride that we have,” said Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

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Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.


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