The USAF Thunderbirds were in town for the Fargo Airsho (spelling correct), and a couple of the members of our Fargo Cadet Squadron did the advance “legwork” to arrange a “Meet and Greet” on the day before the performances began. Thanks to their forethought, cadets and senior members from squadrons in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were able to visit with one of the Thunderbird pilots and some of the ground crew members. I must say, it was a thrill for this old man as well and I was glad to be in town when the meeting occurred. The image above features all of the CAP members in attendance as well as the Thunderbird crew members.
The meeting started with a briefing by Thunderbird Pilot Michael Brewer (above). At first we were kept back from the aircraft, as you can see in the photo above. They were prepping one of the birds to fly an honor flight. A staple with the Thunderbirds is to fly a home town hero as chosen by the host city. Fargo’s choice was Officer Matt Niemeyer, a police officer and Community Trust Officer. Niemeyer works with children in neighborhoods to build trust between the Police Department and youth. Once the area was prepped and safe for visitors, our group was allowed to get “up close and personal” with the fleet of F-16s. We watched the final procedures as they readied to launch the F-16 on the Hometown Hero Flight.
As you might expect, the attention to every detail is systematic. What surprised me is that they even went to the effort of placing the name of the Hometown Hero on the aircraft just below the cockpit canopy. Everyone watched the process of prepping the bird for flight.
With two aircraft support personnel in place, it’s a well choreographed dance that occurs as the pilot prepares to launch. I’ve been to many air shows over the years, but I’ve never been so close as to be able to see the preflight process in progress. The photo above wasn’t taken with a telephoto lens. We stood maybe less than 30 feet from the aircraft as it was readied for flight. A crew of 24 professionals tend to the mechanical and other aviation specialties for the duration of the show and its preparatory requirements.
Once the Hometown Hero flight launched, we were all invited to get close-up with the venerable F-16 jets. Ladders were set up on each side of the aircraft so that two guests could view in the cockpit and ask questions of one of the expert ground crew members. The questions came fast and furious and the team members answered them patiently. We were allowed all the time we needed to have everyone get their chance to look in the cockpit and ask any questions that came to mind.
There was plenty of time for everyone to get a photo with Captain Michael Brewer, including the old man, yours truly. Captain Brewer is a true war hero and veteran with over 315 combat hours over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. This year is his first year as a member of the precision flight team, pilot of Number 3 and flies the Right Wing position. After about an hour or so, the unmistakable sound of an F-16 filled the air. Hometown Hero Niemeyer and Operations Officer Lt. Col. Eric Gorney returned from their flight, announcing themselves with a fly-over. As they were returning, so it was also our time to say goodbye to the ground crews and Captain Brewer. The gallery of images below features images captured during our visit to the Thunderbirds flight line. As usual, most browsers will allow you to click on an image to enlarge it and scroll through the gallery.