Friday, July 04, 2014

Thunderbirds wow crowds at Field of Flight as weekend of events kicks off

BATTLE CREEK, MI – 700 miles per hour.

That's how fast 33-year-old Major Jason Curtis is traveling as he screamed past the crowd in a red, white and blue Lockheed-Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon Thursday during the "sneak pass" portion of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds' hour-long flight demonstration over W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek.

The Thunderbirds, which return this year after being grounded last year by sequestration cuts, will continue to perform throughout the weekend during the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival, which includes a whole host of events including balloon launches and competition, a carnival and concerts.

The air show portion of the Field of Flight runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

RELATED: See complete schedule of events

Curtis said that the ability to showcase the United States military and his love for his country is one of his favorite aspects of being a Thunderbird.

"We love to interact with the community because we know for a lot of people this may be the only glimpse that local communities get of their United States military," he said. "We love to showcase that and bring it out to the public. Honestly, it boils down to one word for me and that word is love. I love this country, I love the people in it. That is why I serve and that is why I do what I can to protect it."

Cody Beard, 11, and his brother Colton, 6, both kept their eyes and a video camera glued to the sky Thursday as the team's F-16s, especially the one flown by Curtis, turned, burned and soared through the blue skies above them.

The two boys could only come up with one word to describe the aerial spectacle that was unfolding above their eyes: "Cool."

As the two boys kept their eyes glued skyward and watched every maneuver the team flew, they had one thing on their minds once the aerial display was finished.

"To meet the Thunderbirds."

Flying as "Thunderbird Number Six," Curtis, a veteran of deployments to South Korea, Italy, Afghanistan and Libya with more than 1,300 hours in F-16s, said that flying as one of the two solo pilots during flight demonstrations is a position that requires him to constantly make mental and physical adjustments during a variety of maneuvers.

Flying as fast as 700 miles per hour and sometimes experiencing nine times the force of gravity during the course of a show, Curtis said that the raw performance that he demonstrates provides a unique challenge for him.

"Right now, on the Earth, I weigh 200 pounds," Curtis said. "I take that, I multiply it by nine and it's like bench-pressing 1,800 pounds all at the same time while I'm trying to do math problems in my nugget. So there's a lot going on physically and also mentally, at that same time. It's a very challenging thing to do when I'm flying the fighter jet but that's what I love about it. I love the challenge."

In addition to flying high performance solo maneuvers during the show, Curtis flies as a member of the Thunderbird's "delta" formation that features all six F-16s joined together in a single formation that performs a series of graceful maneuvers where all six jets appear to be glued together.

"The first part of the show for me is wild and free," he said. "When we rejoin to form the delta, a mental transition happens for me. From that wild and free and aggressive mentality, I have to transition to a very smooth, stable, cool, calm and collected mentality. I make that mental switch and I say, 'Ok, for the rest of this show I'm going to be flying in formation and I'm going to be as cool and as calm as I possibly can be.'"

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