Minden Airport held its Aviation Roundup this past weekend, an annual effort to make the airport better known to neighbors in the Carson Valley and to show off the airport’s multi-faceted value. It’s hard to believe someone could have lived in Minden, Gardnerville or even Carson City for more than a few weeks and not known about our airport, but we regularly learn of someone who has been here years — sometimes decades — and never knew it was here.
It will be harder to ignore now, as we had the well-known U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds exhibition flight team jetting around the valley in full afterburner only a few thousand feet overhead. We also had a major traffic jam as tens of thousands of people tried to drive to the airport on US 395.
In addition to the Thunderbirds, there were two (loud) F-18 jet fighters from the U.S. Navy, an F-18 from the Royal Canadian Air Force, small prop-driven aerobatic acts, the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, and many airplanes on display from private owners and the Nevada Air National Guard.
Minden Airport has been well known to me for a dozen years. I moved from Ohio to Minden to fly gliders out of this airport, and continue to do so today. It has a reputation of offering the best soaring conditions in the world, and having flown gliders and power planes on four continents, I can attest to that.
But with the exception of one jet-powered aerobatic sailplane act at the show this weekend, the performers were powered aircraft.
Having never seen the Thunderbirds I was looking forward to their performance. I was prepared to be a little unimpressed. After all, I’ve been flying a long time and had witnessed lots of aerobatic performances around the world, so I figured I had seen it all. I was clearly wrong, and I’m here to make amends publicly for any lack of enthusiasm I might have conveyed before this show.
I will say I could’ve done without the ground performance that accompanies the Thunderbirds’ act: all the strutting and gesticulating of their ground crew as they fit the pilots into their cramped quarters and make sure all is ready, then direct the F-16 jets out of their parking spots and into a long line that taxies out to the runway in a highly choreographed manner.
But then the young men and women take off and the show begins! I was captivated by the 30-minute production. There are only six jets going overhead, but they seem to be coming from every direction every minute of the performance.
Four will fly from right to left 1,500 feet above the ground in tight formation with smoke trailing, then one will come screaming overhead from behind you as another passes in the opposite direction, seemingly in the exact same piece of airspace.
My favorite part was the long sweep of four or six jets in an arrowhead formation tracing long smoke trails as they rolled in perfect unison only inches apart. That’s real skill!
Precision flight teams have been around since humans started flying, both to demonstrate the prowess of a country’s pilots and to show off the aircraft they fly. Such acts are usually justified as recruiting tools, and I have no doubt several young people sign up after each performance. But I will admit there’s also a place for these shows for senior taxpayers too – there’s where some of your money goes when the Air Force gets it, and it makes the heart swell to see it. Thanks, Air Force and thanks Minden Airport!
Fred LaSor spent an enjoyable weekend at the Minden Aviation Roundup, and thanks the organizers for the show.