Growing up only 2 miles from the end of the runway at Robins Air Force Base taught me from an early age to appreciate the sound of turbo-props and jets. You would think with almost 30 years of hearing all that noise a person would grow tired of it, but not for me. The sound of four General Electric TF39-GE-1C high-bypass turbofans powering a C-5B through the humid Georgia sky still warms my heart and sends me scurrying to the nearest door or window. Air shows have always been an extension of this love. And anyone who knows air shows knows about the Thunderbirds.
For a person who enjoys aviation, there aren’t many better places to be on a weekend than at an air show. Warbirds, modern jets and high performance aerobatic planes all call these venues home. The two major aerial demonstration groups for the United States military are the United States Navy Blue Angels and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. Of the two, I have more of an affinity for the Thunderbirds, probably from growing up in an Air Force town.
Beauty, power and precision are the words that come to my mind when I think of the Thunderbirds. The Museum of Aviation opened its own Thunderbird exhibit, titled “Ambassadors in Blue – U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds”, in May of 2009. The exhibit is the second newest here at the museum and just won a 2010 Air Force Heritage Award. The exhibit includes artifacts, an interactive and videos. However, the centerpiece of the exhibit is without a doubt the F-16A Fighting Falcon. The jet is painted in Thunderbird livery and is simply gorgeous.
This particular F-16, an A model, flew with the Thunderbirds from 1982 until 1991. At the end of the 1991 season the Thunderbirds traded in their F-16A model jets for the newer F-16C. The jet in the exhibit spent most of its remaining time with the Air Force as a ground trainer until it came to the museum in 2008. Using the aircraft paint facilities at Robins AFB and the technical data supplied by the Thunderbirds, it was repainted to its original red-white-and-blue Thunderbirds markings.
The Thunderbirds will only be in the Southeast once more in 2010 (full schedule here), in November over Cocoa Beach, Florida. So the Museum of Aviation and “Ambassadors in Blue” is your best opportunity to get up close and personal with the F-16 and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. There is a video walk-around of the exhibit below. Keep your eyes on the skies!