Members of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds visited Columbus Air Force Base this week to make sure the base is ready for the stunt team’s upcoming performance.
The Thunderbirds will perform during the 2022 Wings of Columbus Air Show and STEM Expo, which will be held March 26-27. Gates open at 10 a.m. with shows lasting from about noon to 5 p.m. The show and parking are free to the public.
Thunderbird 8, Major Jacob Impellizzeri, serves as the team’s advance pilot and narrator. On Monday, he and Staff Sgt. Charles Bolles, a crew chief, toured the base to make sure the proper preparations are in place for the show. The week of the show, Impellizzeri will arrive early to do another check of the facility before the team arrives.
“The team gets here on Thursday before the show,” he said. “On Wednesday, I’ll arrive with a crew chief in a two-seater F-16 to prep the airfield so that the showsite is ready for the team’s arrival.”
Impellizzeri said he has been impressed with the efforts of Columbus Air Force Base and air show organizers.
“It’s been a while since we’ve last been here,” he said. “You can see all the hard work and professionalism that has been put into developing an awesome show. We can’t wait to be out here in March to perform for tens of thousands of people.”
The Thunderbirds consist of eight officers serving as pilots. Four serve in critical roles from medical support to public affairs. In total, more than 120 enlisted members represent nearly 30 different career fields ensuring the team performs at its best.
The Thunderbirds last performed in Columbus in 2018. This year’s show will feature some of the same maneuvers as previous years’ performances, but the format will be different.
The show will be about 50 minutes and will feature a ground show and flights.
“Typically the pilots walk out and we do the ground portion to our maintenance and mechanical crews can show off their skills,” Impellizzeri said. “Then the jets taxi and fly a 36-minute show.”
As the narrator, Impellizzeri bases what he says off the flight maneuvers. During the pandemic many of their shows were canceled so the Thunderbirds used their downtime to reinvent the show.
“We spent the entire year reimagining the show, taking a deep dive into the maneuvers we do and the narration,” he said. “We worked with Disney to create an experience like a big firework display. It builds up to a mini finale, brings you back down and then builds up to the big finale.”
The performance will honor the 75th anniversary of the Air Force and the Thunderbirds’ 69th year.
Impellizzeri joined the Thunderbirds in September after undergoing an application process that lasted about a year. He was previously a 79th Fighter Squadron pilot and was based in Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
Thunderbirds 1-8 all are pilots with 750 hours or more of fighter aircraft piloting experience, Impellizzeri said. They submitted applications, letters of recommendation and performance reports. Prospective pilots are called in for an interview at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where the Thunderbirds are based.
“We interview with the team and base commander to see if we’re a good fit with the program,” he said. “There is also a flying portion as well for the pilots.”
Wings over Columbus will be the Thunderbirds’ second performance of its season, which begins in mid March, Impellizzeri said.
“Season training starts right after Thanksgiving to March. The team trains twice a day, every day,” he said. “We spend time relearning the demonstration and I get to practice the narration and do logistics. It’s an intensive four to five months of training.”
The Thunderbirds are excited to be able to come to Columbus, Impellizzeri said.
“We can’t wait to be out here in March for Wings over Columbus,” he said. “We’d like to help get people out of their houses and see the way the base can give back to the community. We can’t wait to show everyone the pride, precision and professionalism of our team and the Air Force as whole.”