The 50th Anniversary of the Great Tennessee Air Show took place at the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority this last weekend. It filled the skies with planes of all types and the United States Operations Command Parachute Team. There were also many plane related displays and activities on the ground to keep the more than 22,000 visitors entertained.
Headliners, the U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds, put on an amazing display flying at speeds of 500 miles per hour and more while flying as close as 18 inches apart. This year, one of the team was a female pilot named Major Michelle Curran. She is the Lead Solo Pilot for the team, commanding jet number five, doing much of the upside down flying and passing inches from her partner who is flying right side up beneath. Makes one think of the old quote about the dancer Ginger Rogers doing everything that her partner Fred Astaire did, but ‘backwards and in high heels.’ She is supported by a female crew.
According to her online biography, Curran has logged more than 1,500 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 160 combat hours over Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Resolute Support. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, she served as an F-16 instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas.
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed was honored to attend the Performer’s Reception on Saturday night, after spending Saturday watching the display. “I had one goal,” said Reed, “to get my photo with #5 Major Michelle Curran…. Not only was I lucky enough to do that, I got a photo with the majority of females on the crew. Love seeing females doing great things!!!”
While Saturday was blazing hot, there was still a sell-out crowd of 15,000. Sunday was cloudy, and there was a short, heavy shower in the afternoon, but it too was a busy day, with roughly half as many in attendance as the day before.
After Track 45 sang the national anthem, the day started off with a jump by two members of the U. S. Operations Command Parachute Team. They jumped carrying the American flag and a flag in honor of POWs and those missing in action on their first jump. Their second jump featured guests from Germany and Norway. The Para-Commandos are comprised of active duty Special Operators, such as Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers and Marine Raiders.
Other performers included a U.S. Navy Legacy Flight featuring a F-35, an EA-18G, and a F4U-4 Corsair; Mike Wiskus in his bright red Lucas Oil bi-plane; Mike Goulian, a champion at aerobatics and air racing; Rob Holland who flies a state of the art MXS-RH; a Quicksilver P-51 Mustang restored by Bill Yolk, who handmade some of the parts; and demonstrations of Navy planes, including the EF-18 Growler and the F35-C.
On the ground, static displays included the HUGE Memphis Guard C-17 that you can fit a small house inside, the Knoxville Guard KC-135, an E-2 Hawkeye, a V-22 Osprey, a T-38, Coast Guard Beechcraft Baron and Piper Geronimo, the vintage DC-3 Spirit of Detroit; the Air Force VR Experience; and a Navy Nimitz Simulator.
Also on the ground were booths with representatives from many military youth organizations, like the Nashville Sea Cadets. They are the official U.S. Navy youth program. According to their website, it was created “…through organization and cooperation with the Department of the Navy, to encourage and aid American youth to develop, train them in seagoing skills, and to teach them patriotism, courage, self-reliance and kindred virtues.”
Debbie Byers and Mary Ann Knight, wearing their American flag tee shirts, summed up the day the best, “This show makes us feel patriotic.”