The Thunderbirds are the big attraction this weekend at Arctic Thunder 2014, but for one of the pilots, Alaska is the main event.
“You can’t find more scenic, beautiful terrain and a great place again to put on an air show,” said Thunderbird pilot Maj. Curtis Dougherty.
For two years, Dougherty has thrilled crowds as the slot pilot with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
He’s been to Alaska before, to Eielson Air Force Base for training, and says he’s happy to be back in the air over the Last Frontier.
“Down here we’re at about sea level so the performance of these F-16s will be about as good as it is anywhere,” Dougherty said.
That performance was on display Thursday as the team flew their site survey over base, getting familiar with local landmarks.
The Thunderbirds demonstrate the pride and precision of America’s Air Force, and the team will draw thousands to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson this weekend. Dougherty says he thinks the crowd’s enthusiasm starts with the jet noise.
“I think anytime we fly over places like Anchorage, Alaska, you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, you hear the songs, you hear the narrator talk about what’s about to happen and then you hear the jet noise and see the planes come by,” he said. “It makes you proud to be an American.”
The air stunts may be what entertains, but Dougherty says it’s what happens on the ground — meeting spectators — that makes his job worthwhile.
“To get to interact with those people, hear those stories and tell those stories of the airmen that I’ve had the opportunity to work with on a day-to-day basis, to me, is the coolest part of being on this team,” he said.
The Thunderbirds will take to the skies at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Richardson and Boniface gates open this weekend at 9 a.m. and the flying kicks off at 11 a.m.