Local Hero: Excitement soars as Flathead graduate visits air-show organizers

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USAF Cpt. Jason Curtis looks over and smiles as Joe Unterreiner talks about the air show that will be returning to Montana in August of next year. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

 Excitement about next summer’s Mountain Madness 2014 Airshow began to soar Monday as Capt. Jason Curtis stopped in to visit with show organizers.

Curtis, a Flathead High School graduate and member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, is home for a couple of days over the Christmas holiday before heading out for a Thunderbirds flyover during the Rose Bowl parade on New Year’s Day.

“Man, we are excited as anything to be coming back to the valley,” Curtis said. “This is a special treat for the entire Thunderbirds team.”

The flight demonstration team will perform Aug. 30-31 over Glacier Park International Airport. Curtis is the Thunderbirds’ No. 6 pilot, called the Opposing Solo.

Curtis, along with Air Show Director Chris Parson and members of the organizing committee, held a press conference to update the public on preparations.

After last summer’s appearance by the Thunderbirds was canceled due to federal government spending cuts, Curtis said he thought the team might have missed its “one shot” to perform in the Flathead Valley.

“Then out of nowhere I get a call from Joe,” Curtis said, referring to Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Joe Unterreiner.

The cancellation of shows last year made the competition for 2014 even more keen, Curtis said, adding that he was thrilled the Flathead Valley was chosen to host a show.

Trevor Schaefer, vice chairman of the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority, said the airport board is excited to have the event unfold at the airport. The last air show held was in 2005 when the Navy’s Blue Angels performed.

“To have a local hero coming in” will make it a show to remember, Schaefer said.

Outreach is a big part of the Thunderbirds’ mission, Curtis said. In addition to entertaining thousands of spectators with their synchronized maneuvers, one of the goals is to recruit the next generation of pilots.

“I was that kid,” Curtis said. “I was 4 in 1985 when I first saw the Thunderbirds.”

He remembers that “hair standing up on the back of the neck feeling” looking up into the sky and seeing the amazing maneuvers overhead.

“They had no idea the impact they had on me,” he said. “Twenty-nine years later my dream came to fruition.”

Curtis was chosen to fly as one of six F-16 pilot members of the Thunderbirds in May 2012 and is now entrenched in a busy schedule that includes 74 air shows across the country during the upcoming airshow season from March through mid-November.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t remember those who are overseas serving their country,” he added. “They’re giving greatly.”

Curtis served in Korea and Italy and saw combat duty in Afghanistan and Libya before being selected for the elite flight demonstration team.

The Thunderbirds will arrive with fanfare in the Flathead Valley on Aug. 28 and will spend that day doing a site survey, looking for any obstacles within their performance area. Aug. 29 is a practice day for working out the details “so the Saturday show is absolutely perfect,” Curtis said.

“Every single maneuver is dialed in to the nth degree so we can provide a show that people will remember the rest of their lives,” he said.

A video feature on Curtis’ journey to become a fighter pilot can be watched on the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System’s website. Go to http://www.dvidshub.net/video/311866/capt-jason-curtis-his-path#.Uq5qM_RDu1g.

While the Thunderbirds team is in the Flathead Valley, organizers would like to coordinate a photo flight of the F-16s in formation over Glacier National Park or Flathead Lake, for use in national advertising for the team’s air shows.

“It would be neat to get on the national stage,” Unterreiner said.

 

In addition to the Thunderbirds, a variety of other featured acts have been lined up. They include:

• Will Allen Air Shows — Will Allen, “The Flying Tenor,” brings a new type of performance that includes him singing the national anthem live from the cockpit of his Pitts biplane while flying an aerobatics routine that has been choreographed to harmonize with the cadence and crescendos of the anthem.

• Iron Eagle Aerobatic Team — This team flies single-seat Super Christen Eagle I biplanes and is considered one of the most exciting and dynamic flying teams on the air-show circuit.

• Kent Pietsch Airshows —  A stunt show that features a dead-stick maneuver, dual act, comedy and  a vehicle-top landing.

• Super Shockwave Jet Truck — The Flashfire jet truck driven by Chris Darnell, considered the world’s fastest Dodge pickup truck, runs at 12,000 horsepower and can reach a top speed of 375 miles per hour.

Gordon Bowman-Jones will be the professional announcer for the event; George Cline is the professional air boss.

More than 30,000-plus spectators are expected for the 2014 show. 

Parson, who is vice president of the Kalispell Chamber, noted the potential for additional economic impact by having the air show on Labor Day weekend. He cited an International Council on Air Shows statistic indicating that an air show can bring more than $4 million in economic impact to its host location.

 

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

 

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