FARGO -- “The sound of freedom.” That’s how Maj. Jason Markzon, an advanced pilot for the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, described the deafening roar of five F-16 fighter jets as he narrated the squadron’s performance during the first day of the 2019 Fargo AirSho.
This year's show marks the first time the Thunderbirds have flown in Fargo since they helped ring in its inaugural show in 1989.
Saturday's show took on a carnival-like quality, with families enjoying themselves in the sun, reveling in the death-defying stunt shows, exploring display aircraft, and sampling an abundance of refreshments and food, including barbecue, burgers, corn dogs, cheese curds and ice cream.
Fargo AirSho spokesman Bryan Shinn estimated Saturday’s show drew 15,000-20,000 spectators.
Shinn’s family flew in from states as far as North Carolina, Louisiana and Colorado to reconnect over a day filled with flight and fun.
His sister, Kathleen McNeill, of North Carolina, said although she had been to an air show at Pope Air Field at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., she found the Fargo AirSho to be more entertaining.
“Fargo is beautiful, the people here are super nice and the air show is awesome,” McNeill said.
She said her favorite act was the Yak-110 project, a feat of engineering that conjoined two Yak-55 aircraft. Flown by renowned pilot Jeff Boerboon, the Yak-110 was one of the most popular acts of the day.
The Fargo AirSho was well received even by industry professionals, though. Commander Scott Lerdon of the 121st air refueling wing operations unit with the Ohio National Guard praised the show's volunteer planning committee.
"Every one of the acts is really impressive and they’re not acts you normally see or that I’ve seen in other air shows," Lerdon said.
Lerdon's crew flew in their KC-135 plane for display. Its primary mission is to refuel aircraft in flight so they don’t have to land.
Two helicopters and four more aircraft, including the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey — a military aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities that combines the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft — were available for walk-throughs.
Eleven acts performed at the air show, including the "Miss Mitchell," a restored B-25 medium-range bomber that was used during World War II. Miss Mitchell was donated to the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in the 1980s. Only 36 B-25s still fly in the United States.
Miss Mitchell performed various loops and drops to 1940s-style music, strongly evoking an era when the same type of bomber was launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean and bombed mainland Japan early on in the war.
Other acts included skydiving sets from Skydive Fargo, the Navy Leap Frogs and the RedBull Skydive Team, land acts from Black Sheep Skid to PiNN-iT FMX, and aerial performances by Kirby Chambliss, Mike Wiskus, Kent Pietsch, Paul and Jarrod Lindemann and, of course, the Thunderbirds.
Anticipation for the Thunderbirds' performance built all day until at last they were to begin their scheduled performance.
Due to technical difficulties, the squadron's start was delayed, emphasizing their commitment to safety for their pilots.
The audience grew a bit restless, but once the Thunderbirds took off, the crowd was quickly dazzled by the group's thrilling performance, which included diamond formations, high bomb bursts and trail formations. Spectators held their breath when it looked as if the F-16 planes were bound to crash, with their wings sometimes only a few meters apart.
Toward the end of their act, narrator Markzon spoke of current and fallen air veterans, with the Thunderbirds drawing a heart in the sky behind him.
This year's AirSho was the first since the death of Maj. Gen. Darrol Schroeder, who helped found the first AirSho and the Fargo Air Museum. Schroeder passed away at age 88 in March.
His legacy was honored at the start of the show, and his grandson was taken up for a ride with the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs in his memory.
The Fargo AirSho will return from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21, at Hector International Airport. Gates open at 9 a.m. Park at or near the Fargodome. Shuttles are available for transportation to the airfield.