The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 07, 2019 1:00 am

Thunderbirds make grand arrival

Pilot breaks barriers with famed air team

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Thunder rumbled and sometimes roared in the skies over the Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing on Thursday afternoon.

It was raining planes.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds made a grand entrance in advance of this weekend's Fort Wayne Air Show. 

A half-dozen F-16 fighter jets zoomed over and around the air base for 15 minutes, turning the heads and cameras of reporters and photographers assembled on the ground.

The Thunderbirds are the biggest name among the scheduled aerial performers Saturday and Sunday. Their Thursday routine turned out to be a “site survey” in which the pilots acquaint themselves with geographic reference points.

“When we actually do the show, you'll see a lot more upside down (flying), everything will be to music, it will be narrated, and it will be timed,” said Capt. Michelle Curran, one of the pilots. “The diamond will be all together in close formation, and then we'll come together, all six of us, to do loops and rolls and all of that at the end.”

Curran, a native of Medford, Wisconsin, is only the second female solo pilot, and fifth female team member, in the 66-year history of the Thunderbirds. She is in the first of her two years with the demonstration squadron.

“Every time we do a show and we land and we go off to the autograph line, there's still all these little girls that come up and they're awestruck” to see a female pilot, Curran said. “It's cool. That's why I wanted to do the job, was to be able to inspire people. It's quite an honor to be on the team.”

Curran, 32, is an Afghanistan combat veteran who has flown F-16s for eight years. She has been stationed in Mississippi, Arizona, Japan, Texas and now Las Vegas – where she met her husband of two weeks, former Marine John Flueckiger, 34, who grew up in Geneva in Adams County. 

“We got married on a Monday. We do this every weekend, so you can't really make time for a wedding,” Curran said about the Thunderbirds' performance schedule. 

Her husband's parents, Russ and Susan Flueckiger, live in Geneva and will see Curran perform for the first time this weekend.

Curran said the Thunderbirds have scheduled about 70 performances this year. 

“This is the first show I've flown at where the runways basically make an X,” she said. “Usually you have one runway or two that are parallel, and so you can see the show line that orients you. Here you have one this way and one this way, so it can be kind of disorienting.

“Each show site presents its own challenges,” she said. “This is a good one. We appreciate that Indiana is fairly flat. It makes it easier for us, for sure.”

Her F-16 Fighting Falcon is a fighter jet model that was flown by the 122nd Fighter Wing for two decades before the base switched to A-10 Thunderbolt jets several years ago.

“It's a fun jet to fly in, and it's very capable,” Curran said about the F-16. “I deployed with it to Afghanistan, and it did the job very well there. And it's great for the demo because it's loud, it's fast, it's maneuverable. I don't see it going away anytime soon.”

Ground delays

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority is advising airline passengers traveling to and from Fort Wayne International Airport on Saturday and Sunday to allow for extra travel time because of increased traffic and road closures related to the Air Show.

The authority said passenger flights will be unaffected. Terminal traffic will be routed from Airport Expressway through a traffic checkpoint to Airport Drive and then to Ferguson Road and the terminal drive. Outbound airport traffic will exit on Airport Drive.

The authority urged passengers to go to or for updated traffic information throughout the weekend.

If you go

What: Fort Wayne Air Show

Where: 122nd Fighter Wing, 3005 W. Ferguson Road

When: 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. each day

Admission: General admission is free. Premium box seats are available for $15 a person. Private seats in the Snake Pit Club are available for $125 a person ages 16 and older and $75 a person ages 5-15; ages 4 and younger admitted free


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