The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are here, ready to perform in Friday’s Atlantic City Airshow.
Thunderstorms were off in the distance when the group arrived from Las Vegas at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township on Wednesday.
The team consists of 12 Air Force officers — 10 men and two women. Eight members will fly F-16 jets in highly precise maneuvers at the show. At times, the planes will fly 18 inches apart.
“You’ve got the solo pilots, and they push that F-16 to its maximum capability — it’s awesome to see,” said Maj. Kristin Haley.
The team went right to work, tinkering with the jets on the tarmac.
“We’re getting the jets bedded down,” said Maj. Caroline Jensen. “We’re fixing any little problems — servicing, the fuel, all the inspections that need to be done. (This) morning, we’ll visit various groups and hospitals. Then we’ll have a practice (this) afternoon.”
Jensen flies on the right wing. Like the other seven pilots, she has significant combat experience: she flew 6 months, and 200 hours, over Iraq. She is 10 months into her two-year stint with the Thunderbirds.
“Combat was a good indicator of what it would be like,” she said. “You have different stresses, and your ability to be a good pilot is to take that and make it work for you. It’s the same thing here: When you first start flying here, it’s pretty uncomfortable to be that close to another airplane, especially when they’re doing loops and rolls and pulling Gs, but you use that to your advantage and keep plugging though the program.”
During training season, the pilots fly twice a day, five days a week. During performance season, they are required to run through the demonstration four times a week. Today, the pilots will practice for the airshow.
“It’s the whole show,” Jensen said. “They (spectators) can go out, and see everything we’re going to do for the show, but with a little bit less crowds. And at the end, we won’t go right home, we’ll stay and do a couple extra maneuvers, but it will have all the narration and the music if you’re in the right location.”
She won’t have a chance to see the rest of the actual airshow on Friday.
“We’ll fly from here over to the beach to do the show,” she said. “Then we’ll fly back here, and debrief here. So while we’re briefing, there are acts flying. We go to a lot of airshows, but we don’t actually get to go to a lot of airshows.”
The Thunderbirds will be in the area until next Wednesday. Next week is Air Force Week in New York City, and they will fly over the Yankees’ and Mets’ ballparks.
“We have one day off while were here,” she said. “I do not have any plans. I’m kind of looking into it. We’ll see how tired I am when this is over. We do have a lot of fun going to different areas in the country. I’ll probably look for some seafood or go to the beach on that day.”
As the right wing, Jensen spends much of the demonstration making sure the group is centered, but she will still see the crowds.
“There’s maneuvers — there’s one called the ‘diamond pass and review,’ where we turn to the left, and I’m on the right wing and I can look down,” she said. “And I’ll be able to see all the people on the beach, standing there having a good time, and see the sand and the water. It’s kind of neat to see America going by that way.”
Contact David Simpson: