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Thunderbirds at the Florida International Air Show

Sep 20, 2019 06:20PM

Hear the roar as the Air Force Thunderbirds soar in SWFL skies during the Florida International Air Show at the Punta Gorda Airport

The Thunderbirds are coming. The crowds are expected. The excitement is building. One of the world’s elite air-demonstration squadrons, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will perform at the Florida International Air Show at Punta Gorda Airport this fall. The air show runs from Nov. 1-3, 2019, and the Thunderbirds perform on Nov. 2 and 3.

Dana Carr, the air show’s board president, rubs his hands in anticipation of the Thunderbirds’ appearance—their first in Southwest Florida since 2014. “I’m excited,” he says during a recent meet and greet for the Thunderbirds’ advance team at the airport. “Historically, when we have a jet team, it doubles or triples our attendance. You got to figure we’re going to draw up to 40,000, 50,000 people.

“The No. 1 reason people attend air shows are jet teams,” Carr continues. “We’re expecting a huge crowd this year that we haven’t seen since 2014.”

Back in February, Air Force Major Jason “Flack” Markzon, the pilot, and Tech Sgt. Bryson Schuster, the maintenance crew chief, flew into Punta Gorda Airport from Daytona, Florida, to perform a site survey. “Where we’re going to park, where we’re going to operate out of, where the crowd line is going to be. Pretty much every aspect,” Schuster says, referring to what was reviewed. “So far, so good,” he adds.

They arrived in the No. 8 F-16 Fighting Falcon jet, one of the aircraft that will be part of the 45-minute show in November. “We’re excited to be coming to Punta Gorda,” notes Markzon, who is the show’s narrator. “It’s going to be an exciting show.”

Based at Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas, the Thunderbirds tour the U.S. and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft. The eight-aircraft show includes a crew of 130, performing 29 different jobs. They do about 64 shows a year and are on the road about 200 days.

The squadron was created in 1953, making it the third-oldest flying aerobic team in the world. It was formed after the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels in 1946 and the French air force’s Patrouille de France in 1931.

Their F-16 may be a marvel of modern aircraft technology, but the coolest thing about it is its speed. “It goes up to roughly 1,500 mph,” Markzon explains. “It can fly at 50,000 feet, and it’s about 29,000 pounds of thrust coming out of the back. We weigh about 29,000 pounds, which means we have a one-to-one thrust ratio.” Elaborating, he adds: “We can pretty much fly straight up.”        

The pilots, Markzon says, “can pull up to 9 Gs—nine times your body weight. If you’re 200 pounds, that’s 1,800 pounds sitting on top of you.”

 The show in Punta Gorda will be the Thunderbirds’ final road performance of 2019 before they return to Nellis for a home finale Nov. 16-17. “To finish the season in Florida is going to be exciting for us,” Markzon states. “I know we’re going to bring a lot of energy to Punta Gorda.”

As for what’s in store for spectators, Markzon relates, “You guys are going to see some of the best flying of the season. We’ll have a lot of shows under our belts by then, and everybody is going to know where the other guy is without hesitation. There will be some tight, dangerous formations.”

 In addition to the Thunderbirds’ performances, other air shows throughout the weekend include the SOCOM Para-Commandos aerial parachute demonstration team, Matt Younkin’s Beech 18 aerobatic show and more, as well as displays of aircraft and a finale fireworks show.

General admission and reserved tickets are available in a variety of discounted prices, and weekend and family packages are also offered. Sponsorships are available. With the size of the expected crowd, the air show will offer businesses an opportunity to reach thousands of potential customers in one place over a short period of time.

To purchase tickets and for information on sponsorships, the Thunderbirds and the Florida International Air Show, visit floridaairshow.com.