Thunder air show to feature demos by Ky. Air Guard, Navy F/A-18 team

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua Horton
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
This year’s Thunder Over Louisville air show will feature two aerial demonstrations by members of the Kentucky Air National Guard, appearances by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team and precision aerobatics from a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration Team.

The annual event, which has grown to become one of the largest air shows in North America, will kick off Saturday at 3 p.m.

In the first Kentucky Air Guard demonstration, eight Airmen from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron will execute a high-altitude, low-opening parachute jump from a U.S. Air Force C-130J Hercules aircraft into the Ohio River, said Senior Master Sgt. Harley Bobay, a combat controller with the unit.

The special operators will jump from a height of approximately 3,500 feet and land in a targeted area of the river before being picked up by a special tactics water-recovery team. The event will demonstrate how a group of pararescuemen and combat controllers might insert into a challenging operational environment, either for personnel-rescue missions, humanitarian response or combat operations, Bobay said.

Kentucky Air Guardsmen from this unit were heavily engaged in hurricane-recovery missions in 2017, rescuing 336 civilians stranded by flood waters in Texas, and controlling 636 military aircraft in the Virgin Islands, facilitating the evacuation of 1,286 U.S. citizens.

In the second Kentucky Air Guard demonstration, a team of aircrew members will deploy bundles of simulated cargo into the Ohio River from a Kentucky Air Guard C-130 using a “low-drop, low-altitude” technique. This same method is used to air-drop combat re-supply materials to troops on the ground, said Capt. Nick Reinke, chief of current operations for the Kentucky Air Guard’s 165th Airlift Squadron.

Kentucky aircrews were also heavily engaged in hurricane-recovery operations in 2017, airlifting hundreds of evacuees from St. Maarten and flying 152 sorties to transport humanitarian aid from Georgia to the Caribbean.

This year marks the 30th anniversary for Thunder Over Louisville, and the 29th consecutive year in which the Kentucky Air National Guard has served as the base of operations for all military aircraft participating in the show, said Capt. Chad Applegate, air show coordinator for the unit.

“Without the Kentucky Air National Guard’s support from across the base, the air show would be much smaller than it is,” Applegate said. “We coordinate all the military aircraft arrivals and departures. That means a tremendous amount of hard work by a lot of people, but we’re extremely pleased to be part of this event, which helps showcase America’s military aircraft to hundreds of thousands of citizens.”

Also flying in the air show this year is a P-51 Mustang aircraft that was once assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard. The Mustang was the unit’s primary airframe, from its inception in 1947 until 1953.

“The P-51 is kind of seen as the premier aircraft of all the fighters that have existed,” Reinke said. “It’s also a unique heritage piece to tie into our legacy. To be able to showcase where we started from and where we currently are is really neat.”

Nearly 30 U.S. and international aircraft will be featured in this year’s show, including F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles, the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support aircraft, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber, the C-17 Globemaster III airlifter, the KC-135 Stratotanker refueler, the T-38 Talon trainer, the AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopter, and CF-18 Hornets from the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Reinke said that represents “a very wide breadth” in comparison to previous years.

“Usually we try to get as much as we can,” Reinke said. “We’ll end up getting 80 percent of the aircraft requested and still lose another 10 to 20 percent because of other obligations, real-world issues, aircraft maintenance and things like that. This year we were pretty successful in getting just about everything we wanted.

“Thunder is a fantastic event for the city,” he added. “Everybody here kind of steps up to support this, and everybody enjoys doing it. They see the wonderful impact it has on the community.”