Thunderbirds’ F-16s a roaring centerpiece of weekend’s Dayton Air Show

Team’s advance pilot praises ‘patriotic’ Dayton crowds, promises ‘incredible performance’

Refueling issues slightly delayed the Air Force Thunderbirds’ arrival at Dayton International Airport Thursday, but the famed flight demonstration squadron will be ready to perform for a familiar crowd at the CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show on Saturday and Sunday.

“The energy here is palpable,” said Maj. Jeffrey Downie, the team’s advance pilot and narrator, who landed Wednesday in Dayton.

Downie, No. 8 among the squadron’s pilots, had praise for Dayton, an Air Force town that typically sends what he called “patriotic” crowds to the summer shows. The team last performed over Dayton in 2021.

The Thunderbirds and their F-16 Fighting Falcons are the headline act at this weekend’s Dayton Air Show, the 49th edition of the summer spectacle. The entire team is expected to be in Dayton by early Friday.

“For Dayton, for the air show itself, the community and the airport itself, to host the Thunderbirds is no small task,” Downie told media Thursday afternoon, about 40 minutes before the squadron’s C-17 cargo flight — Thunderbird 14 — was scheduled to land.

“You’ll see that when the C-17 gets here, and all the people get off the aircraft, and all of our luggage, all of our equipment and all of our tools,” he said. “We have to be able to operate in very austere environments without backshop support.”

2023 marks the Thunderbirds’ 70th anniversary. The elite demonstration team was established in 1953, six years after the Air Force became an independent military branch, splitting from the Army.

“There’s just a ton of history on this team,” Downie said, noting that the Thunderbirds have had about 2,535 members over the decades.

Today, the roar of the F-16s’ Pratt & Whitney engines is a highlight of air shows around the nation.

The Thunderbird members, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, serve two-year stints in the squadron, most of that time spent traveling to and performing in air shows like the one in Dayton. When they’re not performing or traveling 270 or more days a year, they’re practicing routines endlessly, refining everything from the four-ship diamond formation, to the six-ship Delta, to solo maneuvers.

Downie promised “an incredible performance” — fast-paced, fun and musical.

“It really tugs at the heart strings,” the major said. “It just makes you proud to be an American.”

The Thunderbirds are an Air Combat Command unit ready to go to war if needed. The team is made up of eight pilots (including six demonstration pilots), four support officers, three civilians and more than 130 enlisted personnel performing in 25 career fields, according to the Air Force.

Tips for attending the Air Show

If you’re planning to attend this weekend’s air show, here’s what you should know: General admission parking passes should be purchased in advance. Parking passes per car are priced at $15, and RV and bus parking is priced at $25.

The general admission parking lot is accessible from I-75 exit 64 at Northwoods Boulevard. Look for signs directing you to a new entrance to the general admission lot, at Northwoods and Engle Road. If you’re on surface streets southbound from the Tipp City area, signs should direct you to Northwoods and from there to Engle.

Air show leaders are asking patrons to come early to avoid traffic headaches.

For Chalet, Flight Line Hangar and Pavilion ticket holders, parking in a lot off West National Road is included in ticket purchase, and a free shuttle to the show is provided. This lot is accessible from I-70 exit 32 at Airport Access Road. A handicap-accessible lot will be available for attendees with handicap plates or hang tags off of Wright Drive accessible from I-75 exit 64 at Northwoods.

For more information on the show, visit



How to go

The CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show is Saturday and Sunday.

Buy tickets and general admission parking vouchers at Show leaders encourage guests to buy parking vouchers before the show.

Where: East side of Dayton International Airport. Take exit 64 at Northwoods Boulevard from Interstate 75. Follow signs to the new general admission parking entrance at Northwoods and Engle Road.

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