MARIETTA — The Air Force Thunderbirds landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base on Thursday to prepare for an upcoming show.
The team will fly its “Wings Over North Georgia,” air show 12-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday over the Russell Regional Airport in Rome. To promote social distancing, the event will have a drive-in format.
Five of the six signature F-16 Falcons from the Thunderbirds will fly over the air field, treating audiences to a display of maneuvers at speeds around 400 miles per hour.
With the Rome air show, the team returns to Georgia for its seventh and eighth official air shows of the season, after flying over Cobb and the metro Atlanta area in May to honor frontline health care workers.
Other participants in the show include the Air Force F-16 Viper demonstration team, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers parachute team, the A-10 Thunderbolt and the Globemaster II flight demonstration teams. Dobbins will also make an appearance with a C-130 Hercules airdrop demonstration.
The event is a homecoming for Capt. Remoshay Nelson of Douglasville, who serves as the the public affairs officer for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, in her first season with the team. She’s also the first Black female officer in the Thunderbirds organization, which she said is an “amazing opportunity but also a major responsibility.”
“I know this particular year has been tough for my community and this country. I just happen to be an African American woman who is also Thunderbird 12. And so I don’t take that lightly. I know it’s a major responsibility, and I’m looking forward, not only to the opportunity but the opportunity to inspire young girls who look like me,” she said. “I want them to know that who they are matters, and they can become anything they want to.”
The air show is also a kind of reunion for Rob Skelton, director of the Wings Over North Georgia air show. He’s a former Thunderbird pilot himself, and flew No. 7 in 2007 and 2008.
“We want Americans to feel good about being American. That’s really the best thing,” he said. “You can ask any kid, anybody that’s in the Air Force, anybody that’s flown an airplane, and odds are that they probably got inspired by one of these national teams... It’s really about inspiring that next generation of engineers, pilots, people that are going to lead our nation as we go forward.”
Lt. Col. Kevin DiFalco, the pilot for aircraft No. 7 who is in his first season on the team, said he flies special guests when the Thunderbirds go on tour, including people they want to recognize for doing good in the community.
On Friday, that person will be Fefe Handy, founder of Page Turners Make Great Learners, an Atlanta literacy nonprofit.
“It’s a very exciting job for us, to take someone who has a varying level of comfort, bring them into our world, help them feel comfortable and enjoy the experience,” he said.
DiFalco said he hopes audiences walk away inspired.
“Our mission is to recruit, retain and inspire, but for me, the most important thing is to inspire,” he said. “Even if we can’t recruit folks into the military, we can inspire people of all ages to pursue their goals and dreams.”
General airfield parking tickets are $130 per vehicle with a limited number of front row airfield parking tickets for $300 per car. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages. Each car will be parked in order of arrival and assigned a 10-foot by 20-foot space for the vehicle with an adjacent 10-foot by 20-foot private space for tailgating. The single front row spots will have an additional 100 square feet of space. Guests can also bring their own chairs and tables.
For tickets and for more information, visit www.wingsovernorthgeorgia.com.