The world-renowned U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron puts on about three dozen performances each year.
This October, they’ll be flying their F-16 Fighting Falcon jets over Minden-Tahoe Airport as the headliner for the airport’s Aviation Roundup.
Landing the Thunderbirds is a major coup for the small general aviation airport. Consider: The Thunderbirds were the air demonstration team that performed flyovers at Super Bowl LI in Houston and the Daytona 500 at Daytona Beach in February, two of the nations’ largest sporting events. The Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels are the foremost flight demonstration squadrons in the world, and they typically perform at major military bases or large metropolitan areas.
“No matter where you are, whether it’s Jones Beach in New York (home of the Bethpage Air Show), or the Chicago Air and Water Show, they are the headliner,” says Bobbi Thompson, manager of Minden-Tahoe Airport. “They do 32 shows a year in the entire world, and we are one of them. We are the little valley with the great big show.”
The Aviation Roundup is held every other year. This year it’s the first full weekend in October, or Saturday and Sunday Oct. 7-8. About 30,000 people attended the inaugural event in 2015, Thompson says, and attendance for this year’s event is expected to be about 40,000 patrons.
That would surpass attendance at the annual Candy Dance arts and craft faire in Genoa, which has long been the largest special event in the Carson Valley. Everyone loves a good air show, it seems — especially when the top performers are among the military’s elite.
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In addition to the Thunderbirds, other premier military performers include:
U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team
U.S. Navy VFA-122 Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration Team
Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Demonstration Team
There are also several solo performers, as well as more than 30 aircraft on display on the ground, including World War II fighters, modern military aircraft, helicopters, jets and piston-powered planes.
The Aviation Roundup provides a massive economic boost for Douglas County, one that extends far beyond just a weekend in October, regional business leaders say.
“Hotels are already full, and we are still many days away,” Thompson says. “People are reaching out to south Carson City for lodging. All those people are eating in our restaurants, and shopping at our retail. But more important is the fact that we get national attention because we have internationally known performers. People know there is a lot going on in Carson Valley, and it brings them back in future months.”
And that last, says Bill Chernock, executive director of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce, is where the region truly benefits from the Aviation Roundup. The spotlight the event shines on the entire Carson Valley is far more important than the temporary lift the event provides during a fleeting weekend in October.
“Hosting an event like this with the Thunderbirds, the Canadian team, the Golden Knights — there are less than 50 communities in the Unites States that can make that claim. It puts us in a select crowd,” Chernock says.
Chernock himself soon will be in select company — he’s planning to do a tandem jump with members of the Golden Knights parachute team. Chernock says he’s never had a burning desire to jump out of a perfectly safe airplane, but the chance to jump with the world’s most-renowned parachute team was a thrill he simply couldn’t pass up.
“When you are given that kind of opportunity with the finest jumpers on the planet, I couldn’t make myself say no,” he says. “It seemed like one of those opportunities where if I turned it down I would regret it forever. I am looking forward to falling through space screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Hotel rooms throughout the Carson Valley are booked for the Aviation Roundup. Bill Henderson, director of sales for the Carson Valley Inn, says the property’s 149 rooms and 74 additional spaces in the motor lodge are all full, although there still are some lots available in the 59-space RV area.
Most performers who book rooms at Carson Valley Inn stay from Wednesday through Sunday, giving the largest hotel in the Carson Valley a nice economic jolt in what’s typically the soft “shoulder season,” the period after summer and before winter sets in and skiing picks up.
The hotel also fills up with corporate sponsors and their guests, Henderson adds. Some come to party, but all want to see the Thunderbirds and other elite military performers. The Aviation Roundup started out as an open house at the airport where people could view aircraft, but Thompson convinced the Thunderbirds to fly at the first air show in 2015.
Henderson says that residents had a hard time believing the Air Force’s world-renowned flying team would attend an event at such a small air facility.
“In 2015, people thought we were kidding,” he says. “When you look at where they perform, there are no Minden Nevadas. They are at major metropolitan areas or events like the Super Bowl. Having them at Minden puts Minden on the map.
“It gives us a credibility that resonates throughout the year,” Henderson says. “When you bring in major military jet teams, you get everyone’s attention.”
The first year the Thunderbirds deployed from Reno-Tahoe International Airport. This year, the military flying teams will deploy from Minden-Tahoe Airport. Their aeronautical acrobatics are only half the show, Henderson notes. Watching the Thunderbirds enter their aircraft and deploy as a team raises as many goose bumps as their incredible feats of flying.
“So much of that show happens on the ground itself,” Henderson says, “and you can only get it from being at the airport.”
In 2015 many people avoided paying at the gate and parked along Highway 395 or on East Valley Road. Those who did caught just a fraction of the show, Thompson says.
“People sat in their cars and tried to watch it, and they missed so much. It is a great way to spend the day with your family and enjoy all the good things about our country. Bring lawn chairs, or a blanket, sit down, relax, and let us entertain you.”
If you go
What: Aviation Roundup
Where: Minden-Tahoe Airport
When: Oct. 7-8. Gates open at 10 a.m., show runs 12-5 p.m.
Advance tickets: $15 adults, $10 kids, $40 families at http://www.aviationroundup.com/tickets
Getting there: Public parking is behind the Meridian Business Park. Busses will shuttle event patrons to and from the airport.