USAF Thunderbirds and Cheyenne Frontier Days share history |

USAF Thunderbirds and Cheyenne Frontier Days share history

History and traditions tie both icons together for long running air show

Cheyenne Frontier Days is one of, if not the, most famous and recognizable western events in the world. With 126 years of history and tradition in its rearview mirror, the iconic Wyoming rodeo shares the culture of the west and inspiration of the cowboy lifestyle with scores of visitors from throughout the world. For it to be closely aligned with another American icon means a shared vision and commitment to longstanding excellence.

That shared vision and commitment comes in the form of the world famous United States Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron, which is known across the globe as a team of some of the best pilots and exhibitions of skilled flying in the world. It makes sense the first public air show the USAF Thunderbirds participated in was held in 1953 at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., and ran in conjunction and coordination with the already long-running CFD.

“This has been such an honor,” said CFD General Chairman Jimmy Dean Siler about the Thunderbirds’ close ties with Cheyenne’s historic event. “We have been associated with the Thunderbirds, we are their longest running civilian show. Other than the Air Force Academy, it seems they always come here and we are so proud of that. We have such a good working team, between Cheyenne Frontier Days and the military. It is awesome.”

The appreciation from the Thunderbirds is mutual.

“We’ve been doing it for 69 years,” said Captain Kaitlin Toner (Thunderbird #12), a public affairs officer for the USAF Thunderbirds. “I think what is really special about this show is you come here to Cheyenne and you look at the community and you look at the ties between Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Wings Over Warren air show — technically two separate events — but you look at how they tie in together. You look at how the community and the base work together, and it is a sight to be seen. It is just incredible. So for us, coming to Cheyenne is kind of a no-brainer. We have to come here. It is something that we absolutely cannot miss.”


Watching the Thunderbirds, who are synonymous with the United States Air Force, display close ties to Cheyenne Frontier Days, which is synonymous with the lifestyle of the American West, is to see a respectful integration of two cultures both steeped in tradition and history.

“It is a cool feeling and a cool experience,” said Major Jake Impellizzeri (Thunderbird #8), the advance pilot and narrator for the USAF Thunderbirds, when addressing the topic of the respect both cultures have for each other. “The Thunderbirds are well-versed in tradition; we have a long line of tradition (and) we love our history. We can connect over that. It is a common interest and common goal that you want to protect your history because it is so important. In 1953, this was our first civilian public performance as the Thunderbirds team. We have been here ever since and it is just awesome to see the history, where the Thunderbirds started and where we are now.”

Now in 2022, officials from F.E. Warren Air Force Base appreciated their role in bringing the two together for yet another year.

“It is an amazing opportunity,” said Lt. Colonel Thomas McKnight, director of operations for the 319th Missile Squadron and Air Show Director for Wings over Warren, about hosting the USAF Thunderbirds and the air show in conjunction with CFD. “Wyoming traditionally contributes a lot of airman to our Air Force, so it is important to the community, it is important to our base and our mission and it feels nice to be able to give back and give the people something they enjoy. And hopefully we can inspire them.”

Inspire they did, as initial estimates figure over 5,000 people showed up to watch the 2022 Wings Over Warren air show on Wednesday July 27. Despite early fog and some delays and changes to the program due to weather conditions the morning of the air show, the crowd was undaunted.

“I just love the Thunderbirds, watching them perform,” said Ben Hanlon of Arvada, Colo. Hanlon figured he has been coming to the Wings Over Warren air show for about 10 years, and his young sons (Cohen, 10 years old and Everett, 7 years old) have also caught his passion.

“They love it,” he said with a laugh about the boys’ enthusiasm for watching the Thunderbirds in action. “They are mesmerized.”

Impressing, connecting with, and inspiring new generations is a central theme for the USAF Thunderbirds team and a big part of why they began participating in civilian air shows back in 1953, with CFD being the very first one.

“We are going to showcase (our) pride, precision and professionalism,” said Major Impellizzeri about 2022’s air show. “Not only the Thunderbirds, but the Air Force as a whole, the military as a whole, and the Cheyenne Frontier Days community as a whole.”

Captain Toner took that thought one step further.

“We are looking to inspire people to be beacons of excellence,” summed up the USAF Thunderbirds public affairs officer. “We want to show people excellence in the form of a demonstration, excellence in the attention to detail that you see on the ground; anything that will inspire folks to just be the best version of themselves. Even if it is just being a better person, being a better parent, being a better community member or friend, that is really what it is all about.”

USAF Thunderbirds practiced a popular solo maneuver with one F-16 right-side up and one upside down in close proximity as they prepared for an upcoming July 27, 2022, air show at F.E. Warren Air Force base in Wyoming.


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