Melbourne Air & Space Show/Thunderbirds ~ March 2018

During my interview with Captain Goncharow he stated how honored and humbled he is to represent the Thunderbirds as well as being able to help and care for them and their families. He mentioned how rigorous the physical exertion of each mission is on all of the pilots. According to Captain Goncharow weight training is great preparation for the extensive exertion whenever they fly the aircraft. Both of his grandfathers, both of whom are military veterans, on both sides of his family were major influences in his life growing up. I noticed on his professional biography that Captain Goncharow was an Eagle Scout. I asked him about his Eagle Scout service project. His grandmother was at a nursing home while he was in high school and there wasn’t really any place where the residents could comfortably visit, so he built benches for those visits. He also was instrumental in landscaping the area surrounding the nursing home. People then had a nice place to visit the elderly and loved ones at the nursing home. Captain Goncharow enjoys being able to reach out to communities by encouraging young people and bringing attention to the USAF Thunderbirds. Being deployed while stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB allowed his wife and then very young daughter to be near his parents in Greensboro. Family definitely makes those deployments much more tolerable, especially when having young children.

To be awarded media credentials, once again, was nothing short of thrilling. The weather in Melbourne FL was perfect as the Thunderbirds arrived on Thursday prior to the weekend show, with cool temperatures, no clouds and probably just a tad too much sunshine! But I was able to capture some beautiful shots that I am so excited to share with you. The crew members that I spoke to were so gracious and kind. I did my homework ahead of time by reading their biographies on line. I noticed another similarity with one of the pilots, #5, as he is from Georgia. I was also able to request a personal interview with #5 Major Whit Collins, on the day the Thunderbirds arrived into Melbourne.

When Major Collins was around 9-10 years old he was at an Air Show at Warner Robbins. His mom stopped a Thunderbird pilot to speak to her son! That particular Thunderbird pilot was extremely gracious as he took the time to speak to a then very young Whit, at his level….on his knees. That pilot had a tremendous influence on Major Collins as a young boy which leads him now to do the same with young people when he speaks to them.

When deployed and flying in the Middle East, the longest sortie he flew, to include being refueled was right at 7 hours. That’s a long time, being in that small cockpit of an F-16! Major Collins found out while on deployment to Bagram Airfield (also known as Bagram Air Base) that he was selected to be a USAF Thunderbird. Bagram Airfield is in Afghanistan and is about 60 kilometers north of the capital Kabul. He went from being a combat pilot in Afghanistan to an airshow pilot. Quite a contrast for sure!

There were all different ages at the air show. Look at this cutie-pie sitting on his Dad’s shoulders! Such a great tradition to start at such a young age. I hope this little fella can go with his Dad every year!

Saturday, Day 1 of the air show was a bit warmer with some haze and tremendous amounts of glare as I was shooting up towards the sun. Still such a gorgeous day to capture the precision and expertise of the Thunderbirds, B-2 Stealth Bomber, P-51 Mustang, B-17 “Memphis Belle” and other smaller aircraft showing off their abilities. It was more than enjoyable to soak it all in! It really is exhilarating for me at every air show! Honestly, it’s like Christmas morning as a little kid!

Captain Venturini is in fact gluten free. I can only image how difficult it is for her to find quality gluten free foods while on the road (or in the air!) as much as she is. To try to eat healthy and gluten free is tough enough a lot of the time under normal circumstances! Captain Venturini was so sweet and pleasant. I asked her what she felt was the most important part of her job as the Executive Officer on the Thunderbirds Team. She said she loves talking to young people at schools or Air Force Recruiting Stations to encourage them to dream big and to tell them they can be anything they want to be! That’s exactly what our young people need to hear Captain Venturini! Captain Venturini mentioned she really enjoys the sense of family and camaraderie of being a part of the team. What a huge family of “brothers” she has!

The majority of the 47,000 US SOCOM Para-Commandos are Army Rangers & Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy Seals, Air Force combat controllers,  pararescuemen & combat crew airmen, US Marine Corps Forces Special Operators, Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations forces. This special operations command provides fully capable special operations forces to defend the United States and its interests as well as plans and synchronizes operations against terrorist networks. Nothing short of an impressive group of individuals!

The B-2 has the capacity to carry up to 40,000 pounds of weapons, including conventional and nuclear weapons, precision-guided munitions, gravity bombs and a range of maritime weapons.  It is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet!

This P-51 Mustang, a WWII aircraft, has just taken off at the Melbourne Air & Space Show. Notice the wheels turning on their side as they are going up into the wheel wells?

I sure hope you have enjoyed this feature post! It was tough to narrow down the selections of photos I chose. It was definitely challenging to capture clear photos on such a bright, sunny day. What a thrill it was for me to be able to photograph such wonderful aircraft with incredible history in addition to being able to speak with the Thunderbird Team Members. It was the best weekend ever! Please let me know which photograph you like the best by just commenting below.

Making Memories, Rose

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