Jets’ air show fate in Air Force hands, organizer confident

By Ryan Lengerich

Whether or not the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will fly at this year’s Tucumcari Rotary Club Air Show depends on who you ask.

Rotary Club member and event organizer Bob McClelland Jr. said the jets will undoubtedly be flying at the Oct. 1 show.
But U.S Air Force Public Affairs Officer Capt. Steve Rolenc said no final decision has been made.

The jets were scheduled to be the show’s main event. Their status was thrown into limbo Sept. 14 when a Thunderbird crashed at an air show outside of Boise, Idaho. The pilot ejected safely moments before impact and no spectators were injured.

“At this point we are 100 percent sure the Thunderbirds are coming,” McClelland said.

Officially however, the crash investigation is still being conducted by the Air Force. The $18 million jets will not fly in a show this weekend at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan. Instead, two jets will be on display — grounded and guarded by Air Force personnel.
A Thunderbird flight in Quay County is still officially undetermined.

“As we develop the facts of the situation we will make that decision,” Rolenc said. “Safety is our number one concern. Right now I can’t tell if we will be at Tucumcari as scheduled, it is just to early to tell.”

Though he has not received official confirmation, McClelland is confident everything will go on as planned. He said no scheduling changes have been made by either the International Council of Air Shows or the Air Force. The show itinerary remains the same and media and hotel arrangements have been confirmed. He said the jets’ landing times have only changed slightly and the practice time remains the same.

For the Air Force, no news is not necessarily good news and Rolenc could not speculate when the investigation will conclude. He said changes have not been made to the Thunderbirds’ schedule beyond the Wichita show because all decisions are hinging on the investigation.

While a grounded display as in Kan. can be effective, Rolenc said air demonstrations are a far better recruiting tool.

“We want to get back in the air and start flying demonstrations again as soon as possible,” he said.

This is 11th Rotary Air Show but the first featuring the Thunderbirds. This year’s Oct. 1 show date will avoid any competition with the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque as in past years.

McClelland expects the Thunderbirds’ appearance to add a 30 percent increase in attendance over past years.

“It sounds like this town is going to fill up the rooms,” he said. “We are getting a lot of people from the west, which I have never seen before.”