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After flying in from Las Vegas, six U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilots shut down their engines and popped open their canopies in tandem along a Patrick Space Force Base taxiway.
The Thunderbirds zoomed above the Space Coast and touched down about 4:50 p.m. Thursday in advance of this weekend’s Cocoa Beach Air Show.
“This will be the first show of our new full sequence. So everything has been revised this year,” said Thunderbirds right wing pilot Maj. Zane “Strobe” Taylor, standing alongside his No. 3 F-16.
US Air Force Thunderbirds arrive for weekend air show
US Air Force Thunderbirds flew in to Patrick Space Force Base late Thursday afternoon to prepare for this weekend’s Cocoa Beach Air Show.
“The show has been streamlined and actually shortened a little bit, to kind of keep people’s attention. And it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be an exciting, action-packed, high-speed-type experience,” said Taylor, who grew up in Orlando.
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Set for Saturday and Sunday, the Cocoa Beach Air Show will also feature the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team and GEICO Skytypers. Other aircraft include a B-1 Lancer stealth bomber, B-52 Stratofortress bomber, A-10C “Warthog” Thunderbolt II, C-17 GlobeMaster III and a Valiant Air Command warbird parade.
Opening ceremonies start each day at 11:30 a.m., and flight performances take place from noon to 2:30 p.m. The Thunderbirds will headline both shows from 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.
Admission is free along the Cocoa Beach oceanfront.
“You’re going to see so many different facets of Air Force air power,” said Bryan Lilley, air show chairman.
“You’ve got the super high-tech stealth fighter, the F-22. You’ve got the close-air support with the A-10. You’ve got your airlift: You’re going to get to see the C-17. And we’re going to get to see the bombers, the B-52 and the B-1,” Lilley said.
“So there’s so much here to see. It’s a really unique lineup, probably the most unique — or one of the most unique of any shows I’ve ever done,” he said.
Lori Wilson Park will serve as the geographic “show center,” and aircraft will fly parallel to about 2 miles of shoreline, extending from Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier to Minutemen Causeway.
A camera crew will livestream the event at https://air.show to allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brevard County tourism officials estimate 40,000 to 50,000 people will attend each day.
About 11:15 a.m. Thursday, the GEICO Skytypers completed a 30-minute flight from Lakeland and touched down at Merritt Island Airport in advance of the show.
The team conducts wingtip-to-wingtip, close-formation maneuvers in a WWII-era aircraft, the North American Aviation SNJ-2.
The Skytypers use white smoke to write dot matrix-style messages in the sky as tall as the Empire State Building — and up to 8 miles long. These “skytyped” messages can be seen by spectators up to 15 miles away.
“We have an 18-minute, low-level demonstration highlighting the maneuvers and tactics used by the pilots of World War II and Korea,” said pilot Chris Thomas, who flies Skytyper No. 2 on the right wing.
“If you took an F-18 pilot fresh out of flight training today, he knows everything we’re doing. It’s the same maneuvers and tactics. The principles are the same,” said Thomas, who has logged more than 19,000 hours of flight time on 100-plus types of aircraft.
He said the Skytypers will perform in Cocoa Beach with five planes, rather than the usual six, because one of the aircraft is undergoing wing repair.
The hulking B-52 Stratofortress landed at Patrick about two hours before the Thunderbirds arrived. The air show represents a reunion for one of its pilots, Col. Steven Kirkpatrick — he commanded the 920th Rescue Wing from 2006-10.
“The B-52 is a big airplane. It’s noisy, so you’ll definitely (hear) it as we come roaring across the beach. We’ll go up to about 350 miles an hour,” said Kirkpatrick, who is now wing commander of the 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“You’ll notice it, because we have eight engines. So it’s a lot of power, a lot of noise. It’s exciting for us, but it’s also exciting, I think, for the folks that are on the ground,” he said.
Friday morning, NASA Kennedy Space Center firefighter Andrew Morgan is scheduled to ride in the backseat of Thunderbird No. 8 via the squadron’s Hometown Hero program.
Morgan scaled down the side of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building last fall to rescue a team of painters that had become stranded 375 feet above the ground. The Space Coast Fire Chiefs’ Association later named Morgan its 2020 Firefighter of the Year.