The world’s largest outdoor rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, is in full swing this week and the Air Force Thunderbirds are slated to perform, weather permitting, on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.
The “weather permitting” is a big deal. The annual show with the Thunderbirds has been canceled before. That’s why Cheyenne residents approach the show cautiously and don’t get their hopes too far up.
Assuming skies stay clear enough for the F-16s to perform their acrobatics on Wednesday, attendees of the annual air show can expect the thrills that accompany the reputation of America’s premier air demonstration squadron.
Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day said he is a bit concerned with the low-lying clouds but is optimistic the show will go on.
“There is a risk of early morning clouds and maybe some fog,” Day said while walking to the rodeo grounds in Cheyenne.
“People may wake-up tomorrow and be worried when they see the fog but I’m pretty sure that by 10am, it should all burn off and the show will happen,” he said.
Assuming Day is correct and his office is not surrounded by a pitchforking-wielding crowd, then people can expect to see between 20 – 30 maneuvers during the 45 minute aerial demonstration.
According to the U.S. Air Force, most of the performance features alternating maneuvers performed by its signature diamond formation and the solos.
There are a total of eight different formations featuring 4-6 jets flying in close proximity to each other. The jets come the closest to each other in the Arrowhead formation with as little as 18 inches between aircraft. All formation maneuvers are performed at speeds exceeding 400 mph.
Although it is thrilling to watch from the ground, actually participating in the routines is even better, according to Jim Wilkinson, a former media personality in Wyoming and now the head of corporate relations for Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Back in the mid-1990s, he was a guest rider in an F-16 Thunderbird and described the ride as “indescribable.”
“It was the absolute coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Wilkinson told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
Wilkinson flew with the Thunderbirds for 45 minutes and during that time he said he flew over 700mph and as low as 100 feet from the ground.
“It was the most exciting thing I ever did,” he said. “I didn’t want it to end.”
Wilkinson, who broadcast his experience on the radio station he was working for said, unlike many participants who were fortunate enough to experience the Thunderbirds from the aircraft itself, he didn’t get ill.
Performers at Cheyenne Frontier Days, he said, are sometimes invited to participate, with mixed results.
“George Strait had a little bit of a hard time as did Kathy Matea,” Wilkinson said. “But Mark Chestnut got his ‘9G’ pin and he thought it was the coolest roller coaster he’d ever been on.”
Wilkinson was referring to a “G-force” or gravity force which is a measure of acceleration.
For most people, the peak G-force they will experience is between 3 – 4Gs, which is what they would feel on a rollercoaster.
A fighter pilot told a scientific magazine that pulling 9Gs is like having 2,000 pounds pressed up against your body.
“Under 9G’s, the world appears to shrink until it looks like you’re viewing it through a toilet paper roll,” Hasard Lee told Sandboxx. “Blood is being pulled out of your head towards your legs and arms, resulting in the loss of peripheral vision. If too much blood is pulled out, you’ll pass out, resulting in incapacitation for around half a minute.”
Not For Everyone
Riding along with the Thunderbirds isn’t for everyone.
Dave Lerner, a former TV anchor in Cheyenne, said he was scheduled to ride along with the Thunderbirds but the weather postponed the ride for a full year.
When that time came a year later, he passed.
“I decided as a guy who doesn’t like roller coasters that I would defer and let someone else do it,” Lerner said.
He doesn’t regret it.
“I chickened out and I’m proud to say I chickened out,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he’s given up Cheyenne Frontier Days, he just enjoys it from the ground as the announcer for the parades.
The show is expected to begin at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning and will last for two hours.
More information is available here.