Thunder over the Rock Air Show

The Thunderbirds, an F-16 demonstration team, represent America’s airmen by exhibiting flight combat capabilities and maximum performance of the fighter jets.  Thunderbird pilots take the jets as low as 150 feet off the ground and as fast as 650 miles per hour. Though the F-16 can break the sound barrier, pilots are not allowed to do so during air shows due to the probability of breaking windows and shaking buildings.

When it was the Thunderbirds’ turn to shine in Little Rock, those meandering through the vendors and static displays stopped in their paths and crowded toward the fences to get as close as possible to watch while the pilots boarded their jets and taxied down the runway. In anticipation of the near-deafening roar of the F-16s, many wore earplugs.

Showing extreme precision during the entire performance, even on the ground, the Thunderbirds boarded the six F-16s simultaneously and taxied in three pairs. While turning their heads left and right, then craning their necks up toward the sky, spectators heard a mix of popular and patriotic songs, along with the informative voice of Capt. Kristin Hubbard, advance pilot and the first female narrator for the Thunderbirds.

Maj. Rick Goodman, an Arkansas native born in Little Rock, flies lead solo for the Thunderbirds in the No. 5 jet. When asked about the upside-down numeral 5 on his jet, he explained that because he spends so much of his performance time inverted, the 5 is painted that way so it appears normal to the crowd watching from below. Thrilled to be performing in his home state, Maj. Goodman received a hometown hero’s welcome and signed many autographs.

Among the air show’s other performances were “Tora Tora Tora,” a reenactment of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor; Shockwave, a jet truck that races up to more than 300 mph; The Golden Knights, a team of U.S. Army parachutists; and the Canadian Forces SkyHawks Parachute Team.

Additionally, the air show featured demonstrations by a C-130J, a F/A-18 Super Hornet, an AV-8B Harrier and an A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Another major highlight of the show was when the sky filled with green parachutes as 400 paratroopers jumped from C-130 cargo planes.

Besides the planes soaring overhead, numerous static displays also attracted air show goers, including several helicopters, a B-52 bomber, a C-54 that was used in the Berlin Airlift and a C-5 Galaxy, which can carry cargo weighing up to 270,000 pounds.

Thunder Over the Rock lived up to its name for the hundreds of thousands who attended: thunderous performances, thunderous volume and thunderous applause.