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2017 Dayton Airshow Marred By Thunderbird Accident But Highlighted by Other Performers

By Mike Heilman

The Thunderbirds diamond practices upon arrival to 2017 Dayton Air Show. The Thunderbird arrived on Monday before the show but had to cancel their performances due to mishap with the team’s two-seat F-16D. (Mike Heilman)In 2106 the Dayton Air Show attendance suffered from a cancellation of the headline act two weeks before the show, when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels experienced a tragic accident at an air show in Tennessee.  Once again in 2017, the show experienced another cancellation of the headlining act due to a near tragic accident of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The mishap happened at the Dayton International Airport less than 24 hours before the show was scheduled to open.

Thunderbird number 8, the two-seat F-16D “Fighting Falcon,” was conducting a crew familiarization flight in the Dayton area when upon return to the airport the jet skidded off the runway and flipped over trapping the pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalvas and Tech Sgt. Kenneth Cordova for almost two hours.  The Thunderbird crewmembers were transported to a local hospital in good condition. There was heavy rain at the time of the mishap from remnants of tropical storm Cindy.

On Friday Michael Emoff, Chairman U.S. Air & Trade Show Board of Trustees, held a press conference to discuss the weekend’s show after the mishap. “When you first hear about something like this you pray that everything is okay and for the health of those involved.  Once you understand that everything is under control, you then start working on what I can do. My job as Chair of the air show is to ensure that we produce a safe and quality show for our community.”

The Thunderbird’s team eight jets arrived on Monday after performing in Youngstown, Ohio.  The Thunderbirds Commander was looking forward to giving the team a rare few days off before the Dayton show. “We do not get a whole lot of downtime, this two days in Dayton is pretty much it. If we have two shows back-to-back, we sometimes will be able to give people two down days. We are going to make the most of these two down days, we have trips planned to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, the Air Force Museum and the Wright Brother’s Museum.”

Major Ryan Bodenheimer, the left wing pilot in the famous Thunderbird diamond formation, was excited for his scheduled Dayton air show appearance: “It is an incredible show of air power. It demonstrates America’s greatness in air power. We are an aviation nation and we were the inventors of aircraft. We are representing the legacy of aviation and the legacy will continue to be great.  It is also representing the veterans that have come before us and who will serve in the future.”

Major Ryan Bodenheimer flies the Left Wing of the famous Thunderbird’s diamond formation. Maj. Bodenheimer was a former F-15E “Strike Eagle” pilot before joining the Thunderbirds. (Mike Heilman)A former F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, Bodenheimer explains why he became a pilot: “I was going to be a doctor and then 9/11 happened, so I decided that I wanted to serve. I was able and I was patriotic.  I wanted to give back a little bit, so I wanted to be a fighter pilot. It’s a combined service to our country with an adrenaline rush every day.”

Bodenheimer flew the F-15E before joining the Thunderbirds and he commented on that mission: “I was in Afghanistan in 2011 to 2012. I did one tour overseas and it was the highlight of my career so far. I was able to support the troops from up above. We got to help them come home to their families and friends.”

In comparing the F-16C to the F-15E, Bodenheimer commented on the difference between the two high performance aircraft: “I flew Strike Eagles for about eight and half years and I have been flying the F-16 for a year and half now. It is a comparison of a crotch-rocket motorcycle and high speed Cadillac.  The torque and execution of the F-16 at low level is ridiculous with 30,000 pounds of thrust that will turn on a dime.  The power and agility of the F-16 in unsurpassed, but the F-15E with its size and ability, and it brings combat power to where ever we need, is unparalleled. In combat my choice would be the F-15E.”

The Thunderbirds did cancel both days of the Dayton show, but there were plenty of great air show acts on the show lineup to help make up for the loss of the headliner.  The show had several first-time acts, including the first flying appearance of the U.S. Air Force F-35A “Lightning II.”  The F-35A was part of the U.S. Air Force Heritage flight with a P-51 “Mustang.”

A pair of Lockheed Martin T-50A training aircraft fly into the 2017 Dayton Air Show. The T-50 is in completion to become the next Air Force advanced trainer replacing the T-38 Talon. (Mike Heilman)Lockheed Martin’s T-50A supersonic jet trainer made its debut at the Dayton show.  The T-50A is the company’s candidate for the Air Force’s next advanced jet trainer, which will replace the T-38 “Talon.”  The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 “Super Hornet” Demonstration Team flew a tactical demonstration at the show. The team was from Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-122 based at Lemoore Naval Air Station, Calif.

Headlining the civilian portion of the Dayton event was air show legend Sean D. Tucker in his highly modified Challenger III aircraft.  Tucker is also the Young Eagle Chairman and he flew local essay-contest-winner Annie Stemen in his Extra 300 plane. The Young Eagle program is designed to give kids a chance to get a fly free of charge in order to increase interest in aviation.

Tucker is planning on retiring from his is solo act after the 2018 air show season and one of the acts likely to replace Tucker as Six- time U.S. National Aerobatic champion Rob Holland performed a high energy routine in his MXS-MX aerobatic plane. (Mike Heilman)the best solo act will be six time U.S. National Aerobatic champion Rob Holland.  Flying his MXS-MX U.S.-built aerobatic airplane, Holland performed a high-energy routine. This was Holland’s debut performance at the Dayton Air Show.

The GEICO sponsored “Skytypers” made their first appearance at the Dayton show. The GEICO team flies six North American SNJ airplanes. The SNJ was used to train Navy World War II pilots. Team pilot Chris Orr explains: “We have a 20-minute routine with six SNJs, which are the star of the show. We do some low level precision formation flying, limited aerobatics and we do World War II and Korean War tactics that give the show some historical aspects to it.”

Orr, a former U.S. Navy F-14 pilot, also commented on the team’s mission “The other thing we do is we get the formation together and we sky type some messages in the sky.” Orr The GEICO Skytypers Demonstration Team flies in formation over Dayton, Ohio. The Skytypers made their first appearance the 2017 Dayton Air Show. (Mike Heilman)commented on how the team does the sky typing: “It is controlled by computer in the number one aircraft. He links all of the planes together, like a date link radio. He controls the puffs of smoke that comes out of each airplane, so we get in a big line to make the puffs of smoke come out of each plane. It’s like a giant dot matrix printer. We are going two-and-a-half miles a minute so we can write a big long message really quick before any letters blow out. The letters are as big as a skyscraper.”

On April 18, the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton honored the 75th anniversary of the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan during the start of World War II. The Dayton Air Show commemorated the raid with a B-25 Mitchell Bomber flying demonstration complete with pyrotechnics.  The B-25J ”Champaign Gal” that flew the demonstration is owned and operated by Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio

A pair of Van’s RV-8 aircraft come into land at the 2017 Dayton Air Show. The aircraft are a part of Redline Airshows. (Mike Heilman)The Redline two-ship aerobatic team of Ken Rieder and Jon Thocker made their second appearance Dayton Air Show in their RV-8 aircraft. Bob Freeman representing Suzuki Motor of America performed a routine in is his Extra 330SC. The Misty Blues all women skydiving team performed a team jump and also jumped in with the American flag to start the air show.

Military aircraft took center stage at the Dayton show with several aircraft on static display.  A U.S. Air Force B-1B Bomber was on static display. The B-1B “Lancer” was from the 28th Bomber Squadron stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.  Other Air Force aircraft on display included the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 “Hercules, and T-38 Fighting Falcon.  U.S. Navy aircraft on display included E-2 “Hawkeye”, F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G “Growler,” C-2 “Grey Hound” and the P-8A “Poseidon.”

The Misty Blues Parachute Team opens the 43th annual Dayton Air Show with a jump with the large American flag. (Mike Heilman)The 2017 Dayton show had a decline of 30 percent from the 2016 show. The attendance for the past two years has experienced some unfortunate luck with the late cancellation of the headlining acts, but hopefully in 2018 when the Blue Angels are scheduled to appear June 23 and 24 the show will go as planned. If there an air show that deserves a break, it would be Dayton.  


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