TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — The Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s premiere aerial demonstration team, will headline a wide selection of aviation acrobatic acts, military aircraft demonstrations and displays of both modern and historic airplanes when Travis Air Force Base opens its gates to the public May 3-4.
“There will be something for everybody,” said Capt. Jamie Leenman, the Air Expo’s assistant air operations officer. “It will be a rare opportunity to see the Thunderbirds and to see the Army Golden Knights.”
This year’s two-day Air Expo will be the only one of its magnitude in California, as well as one of the few places in the state where the Thunderbirds will perform. If you miss the Thunderbirds here, you will have to travel all the way to the California International Airshow at Salinas on Sept. 27-28.
The Thunderbirds will not only dazzle the audience both days with 3 p.m. shows, but the pilots will also be available after their performances to talk with the crowd and sign autographs.
Travis is also one of only four Air Mobility Command bases to have an air show this year, according to organizers.
“The whole purpose of the show is to open our doors to the public,” said Maj. William Kerr, the Air Expo’s deputy director, of the base’s traditional open house to show off its capabilities and thank the public for its support.
Called Thunder Over Solano, the Main Gate will open at 9:30 a.m. both days. Security forces and base personnel will direct visitors to designated parking areas close to the show area.
With the warm weather expected, visitors are encouraged to bring sunscreen, hats, clear containers with water and earplugs. There will be plenty of concessions run by on-base squadrons selling food, refreshments and souvenirs.
The Army’s Golden Knights parachute demonstration team is expected to open the show each day, jumping onto the flight line with an American flag.
Civilian aerial acrobatic performers include Spencer Suderman flying a Meteor Pitts, Kent Pietsch flying an Interstate Cadet, Bill Cornick flying a Pitts S-2C, Eddie Andreini flying both a Stearman and Yak-9U, Melissa and Rex Pemberton flying an Edge 540, Greg Colyer flying a T-33, Vicky Benzing flying an Extra Flugzeugbau 300S, Matt Younkin flying a BE-18 and Steve Stavrekakis flying an IAR-40.
Some of the performers will park their aircraft near the crowd after the performance and take the opportunity to talk with spectators.
The very loud and very fast Smoke-N-Thunder jet car will also return to the Air Expo to race Sunderman in his Meteor Pitts.
Visitors will be able to compare two of the most successful fighter aircraft of the past and present when a World War II-era P-51 Mustang will fly in unison with an F-16 Fighting Falcon, otherwise called Viper by its pilots. The flight is part of Air Combat Command’s Heritage Flight program.
Travis fliers will put in their own aerial appearances with flyovers of the C-17 Globemaster, the C-5B and C-5M Galaxy, and the KC-10 Extender, all of which are stationed at the base.
The C-5B and the newer C-5M will put on a capability demonstration to show how much more viable and efficient the C-5M is to serve the Air Force and save money.
Not only will Travis’ fliers show their skills, but organizations such as Travis’ civil engineering squadron, its fire department, security forces and contingency response wing will show off their equipment and put on demonstrations. The Travis security forces K-9 unit will share a demonstration with the Fairfield Police Department’s K-9 unit.
More than three dozen modern and vintage military aircraft will be on display on the flight line, with crew members on hand to answer questions.
These include current aircraft such as the A-10 Thunderbolt, the MQ-1 Predator, F-22 Raptor and the F-16 Fighting Falcon sharing the flight line with vintage aircraft such as the B-25 Mitchell bomber, the P-51 Mustang fighter and the Douglas C-39 transport.
An exhibit honoring the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II will be set up on the flight line. There will also be a display of historical military vehicles on hand.
The Travis Heritage Center will be open both days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will offer open aircraft such as the C-133 Cargomaster, the C-7 Caribou, the C-124 Globemaster and the C-119 Boxcar to tour in addition to its current exhibits on the history of Travis Air Force Base and military airlift.
A free shuttle will take people from the flight line to the Heritage Center and back.
For younger visitors, there will be a large kids’ play area complete with activities such as a bounce house, a rock-climbing wall and a zip line.
Residents living or driving near Travis on May 2 may even get a little taste of the show, when some of the civilian aerobatic performers and their aircraft will practice over the base in the morning while some of the Thunderbirds conduct a practice in the afternoon.
For the latest information about the Air Expo, go to www.facebook.com/TravisOpenHouse.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.