Thunderbirds coming to Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) Those attending the Rochester air show this weekend can hear and feel the roar of the engines. But for the pilots?

“The F-16 is capable of pulling 9 Gs,” That is Major Whit Collins, a slot pilot for the Thunderbirds. “During the demos, you’ll see the solos pulling 9 gs. I’ll pull about 7 and a half.”

The Thunderbirds have been the US’s aerial ambassadors since 1953, a job that has quite a few perks.

“I think for me its about the freedom of it,” Collins said. “You think about standing on the ground and looking with your eyes to the sky, and as a pilot you’re in the sky looking down at the ground. It’s just having that god’s eye view of all the places you read about.”

“Passing by here, passing by Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building… I’ve never seen it from that perspective, ” Collins said. “I remember looking out the left side of my plane and seeing the Statue of Liberty, I actually got a little emotional. This is such a cool symbol and i can’t believe i’m flying over it in a red white and blue jet.”

To be a Thunderbird, it takes a minimum of 750 hours of training, though Collins says most have 1,000 hours. After a four-month rigorous program and a seal of approval from the general. The pilots become newly minted Thunderbirds. But how do they make this all work?

“The high demo is 45 minutes, with 40 of those being in formation,” Collins said. “Obviously we’re all flying off the boss, so we’re all staring at him, and different parts of his jet, so that’s how we stay in a symmetric formation, just by flying off of reference.”

“I trust the boss that he’s going to tell me before he does something, and that he’s going to do it in a very gentle and predictable way, ” Collins continued. “And he trusts us to fly our positions.”

Every year, half of a Thunderbird team is new, and the other half are second or third year Thunderbirds. Collins’ plane, No. 4, just came back from a refit, and is it’s first trip.

“It even came with a brand new paint job, so it’s a lot shinier than the new jets,” Collins quipped.

But through all the left and right turns, the formations, and high stakes, it comes full circle for Collins.

“Our mission with the Thunderbirds is to display the pride and professionalism of the us air force and it’s all members,” Collins said. “We’ll got out and tell the story of the US Air Force.

“That part is really cool,” Collins said. “remember meeting a Thunderbird when I was a young kid, and him telling me I could be a pilot, and now I get the chance to go into schools and tell them they can be pilots or anything they want to be.”

The show is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday at the Rochester International Airport.

Demos start at 10:30 a.m. and include the Thunderbirds, the Whiskey-Seven Cargo Craft, and the Misty Blues Skydiving team.

More info on the even can be found here:

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