Why is this different and why should I look? Thunderbirds shots are not hard to find online. I have tons of them myself and an appearance by the team at any show is going to result in a ton of shots from the people there. These are shots with a slight difference though. These were taken in Chicago at the Air and Water Show a number of years ago. However, they weren’t taken on the main show days. Instead, they were taken during the Friday practice.
Because it was a practice day, the team carried out their display with a spare aircraft loosely in formation. It was a twin seater so I assume the backseat had a photographer occupying it. (I am not in the least bit jealous of course!) The team flew their normal display routine and the extra jet would position itself around the formation and (hopefully) get some shots of them with some excellent backdrops of the city.
For me, it meant getting pictures of formations that you don’t normally see. I imagine the excess power of the F-16 means there is some scope for the spare jet to position itself well around the formation without running out of energy. It must provide scope to get some cool shots. They had better be cooler than the ones I got that day given the position they had. I am happy with mine all the same.
A discussion on Facebook between a few people I know recently turned to a discussion about the USAF display team, the Thunderbirds. While I can’t now remember how ended up the way they did, at some point, there was discussion about the time the Thunderbirds touched in mid-air with one aircraft losing part of the wing tip missile rail. This occurred at the Chicago Air and Water Show and I was there that day.
At the time, not many people knew anything had happened. Indeed, for a while they flew on before pulling out of the display routine and orbiting overhead and then eventually returning to Gary to land. No-one on the ground had any idea what was going on. I did not capture the contact between the jets. However, when I looked through my shots afterwards, I realized I had a shot of the four ship formation with one aircraft missing the rail and another showing some signs of damage on the tailplane where the rail had impacted. Below is one shot to prove they started out intact!
Middle of August means the Chicago Air and Water Show is back. This year’s show, like all other shows in the US, was always going to be a bit different since the US military was not going to be taking part. That means a shift in emphasis from normal with a lot more civilian acts. With no headlining team this year (normally the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds alternate), there was a question as to whether the attendance would be significantly reduced. It is a free show so you might think it isn’t that big a deal but the sponsorship is important and that requires people to show so it was going to be interesting to see how things shaped up.
There were some jets to add some noise and speed to the proceedings. Art Nalls brought his Sea Harrier and Paul Wood brought the A-4 Skyhawk. Both displayed twice on the show days to add a hint of military jets to things. Of course, these are not operational fighters and are nursed a little more carefully than a front line jet which the pilot can swap for another if he breaks anything. However, they still are able to up the tempo a bit.
I mixed my time between the flying on the beach in Chicago and Gary airport where everyone was staging from. It is fun to get the mix of the actual displays and the activity around launching and recovering the planes. The shots are a mix of those. I got to spend a lot of time with Team SHAR and will have a separate post about that in due course. From what I saw and heard, the attendance on the beach was pretty strong, if a little down on previous years. It looks like the show does indeed go on!