Six F-16C Fighting Falcons belonging to the United States Air Force Thunderbirds roared into Punta Gorda, Fla., skies Tuesday afternoon putting on a mini show before landing on the airport’s tarmac. “America’s Ambassador’’ in Blue” are in town for the 34th Annual Florida International Air Show taking place March 29 & 30, 2014, at the Punta Gorda Airport.
Honestly, I still don’t know the difference between an F-16 and a 737 but I’ve fallen into loving the thrill of aviation. Okay, slight exaggeration, I know the former is a really, really fast fighter jet yet, I can’t tell you if the latter has three and three seats across or two and three or whatever. And yet, I’m here to tell you there’s no need to be an aviation expert to appreciate a good air show and the Florida International Air Show is one of the best. Not because I’m an onsite volunteer who also has media credentials, but because it’s been named as one of the 10 best air shows in the world by USA Today.
Momma, Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Captains
I was the envy of many spectators Tuesday afternoon when I had a chance to meet Capt. Jason “Jaws” Curtis who is Thunderbird 6, Opposing Solo. “Opposing Solo” means the pilot performs individual maneuvers such as fast passes, fast rolls and tight turns to highlight capabilities of the F-16. Maneuvers are performed just under the speed of sound, which is 500 – 700 mph.
Originally from Kalispell, Mont., Capt. Curtis was inspired by the Thunderbirds when he was four years old. That’s when they “screamed” over his house and “left a mark.”
Was that the sole reason he joined the Air Force? No.
“Desire to serve in the Air Force came from a desire to honor my family and honor my country,” Capt. Curtis told me. “My father was killed in his jet a couple of months before I was born. My grandfather fought for the RAF over in England. He wanted to become an American citizen and wasn’t able to do so in his lifetime. My father was able to do so through military service.”
He added that his military service pays homage to his family and their efforts to become American citizens.
I had to hold back the tears when he told me this:
“I’m proud to say I’m first generation American on my father’s side,” he told me.
Capt. Curtis served as an officer in a combat unit in a fighter squadron in Afghanistan in 2010 and Libya in 2011. Serving with the Thunderbirds is a way he can share in-the-field stories not being told by mainstream media.
He described his experience in Afghanistan as being both “cool” and “humbling” saying it, “showed me what Americans can do and how we can work as a team…how my brothers and sisters in arms operated under pressure to get the job done. There’s something to that and those stories need to get out.”
“Seeing them, it motivated me to seek a position on the Thunderbirds team,” and he added it’s a “platform to get some of those stories out” and “shed light on what service members are doing outside of the United States overseas.”
“It’s a symbol of American pride,” he told me when asked what being a Thunderbird means to him, “it provides that link between the American public and military.”
The USAF Thunderbirds will perform Saturday and Sunday, March 29 & 30 during the Florida International Air Show. Expect to see jets race across the sky at speeds up to 720 mph and perform different maneuvers. Have I mentioned it’s a little loud? But in a good way.
Honoring a Fallen Warrior
During the in-flight performance, the Thunderbirds will honor a Fallen Warrior with a maneuver and his name will be printed inside the gearwheel of Thunderbird 1. Army Pfc. Alberto L. Obod Jr., 26, of Orlando, Fla., was assigned to the 391st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, Bamberg, Germany. Obod died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered during a vehicle roll-over, Aug 28, 2011. He and his family will be honored both days of the Florida International Air Show.
Florida International Air Show Nuts & Bolts
Visit www.afthunderbirds.com to learn more about the Thunderbirds including their schedule for the 2014 season.
The Florida International Air Show features a collection of edge-on-your-seat aerobatic performers, military aircraft, static displays, plane rides and plenty of food. This year’s theme is “A Salute to Veterans.” One of the returning displays is Disabled Americans Veterans‘ B-25 Mitchell Bomber Panchito. Be sure to check out this post about the good DAV is doing for our veterans.
Last year I had the honor of meeting wing walker Jane Wicker and fly in her bi-plane.
The show benefits dozens of Southwest Florida charities and raises more than $2.9 million for these organizations. Gates open at 9 a.m. both days (March 29 & 30, 2014)
Visit the air show’s website (www.floridaairshow.com) for additional information.
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Thank you Capt. Curtis for your time and especially for your service.