Thousands look to the sky at Sheppard's Air Show

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kyle E. Gese
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

Nearly 64,000 people attended the 75th Anniversary Air Show Celebration at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; more than double what the event planners anticipated.


On Sept. 17 and 18, 2016, Sheppard opened its gates to Wichita Falls and its neighboring communities for the 75th anniversary of Sheppard Air Force Base, 35th anniversary of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program and the 50th German partnership anniversary.


“It was an amazing success because of the entire team’s eye-watering performance throughout,” said Lt. Col. Ash Cannon, air show director. “Everything seemed to be in our favor; even the bad weather that blew in overnight couldn’t get the best of us. While yes, it took out our tents and literally destroyed the event site on the second day, it was still no match for us. We gathered nearly 2,600 Airmen in Training to help us reset the site in about two hours and continued the air show with no delay to performance start.”


During the open house and air show, Sheppard allowed visitors to wander freely and explore the various aircraft Sheppard trains its future aviators, maintainers and support Airmen with.


Sheppard showcased numerous performers such as the Tora Tora Tora Pearl Harbor reenactment, the Air Force Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team, former Army Golden Knights skydiver Dana Bowman, Viper Air Show jet car and solo demo, Randy Ball’s Mig 17 and Vietnam T-37 demo, Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly comedy air act, Texas Raiders B-17 WWII demo, Freedom Flyers P-51 WWII demo, and the world-famous U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.


While some performers were comedic in nature, others served as reminders for service men and women and their families of the horrors of WWII, Vietnam War, Cold War and other conflicts, lest we forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country.


Tora Tora Tora brought to life the explosive attack on Pearl Harbor that day on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the U.S., bringing them into the war. During the air show, spectators could see firsthand the explosions as the A6M Japanese WWII attack planes circled above. Sirens blared and recorded audio of President Roosevelt declaring that day as a day that will live in infamy, played over the loud speaker.


Other performances like Randy Ball, the Texas Raiders and even the Freedom Flyers, took folks back as they demonstrated aerial fly-bys of aircraft used in WWII and Vietnam.


“It was absolutely surreal to see these performances,” said Tony Gese, a spectator of the show. “I have seen no other group like the performers at Sheppard and they did a great job of taking you back to those dreadful days. It was a wonderful tribute to those who fought and came home, and those who did not.”


The final act was none other than the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who take pride in showing the American people the precision, accuracy, dedication and professionalism of the American Airmen - flying at incredible speeds of almost 1,000 miles per hour, only several feet apart from each other. Their ground crew demonstrates the same level of accuracy and precision as the flyers above, executing movements so precise, the pilots are able to take off in only a matter of minutes.


What makes their visit just a little more special to Sheppard was that many of them started their careers here. For example, Thunderbirds Team commander and flight lead, Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond, and Capt. Ryan Bodenheimer, formation left wing, graduated from the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at the 80th Flying Training Wing.  

Thunderbird 12, Capt. Sara Harper, Thunderbird public affairs officer, began her career at Sheppard after she graduated from Auburn University ROTC in 2010. Harper is now responsible for the extensive marketing, recruiting and publicity programs for the Thunderbird team, and travels around the U.S. bringing their show to hundreds of thousands of people.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 82nd Training Wing commander, said the air show and open house was an opportunity for the base to show what the Air Force is all about and provide a "thank you" to its North Texas neighbors for their continued support.

"I can't overemphasize enough how grateful I am for Wichita Falls, Burkburnett, Iowa Park and all the surrounding communities and that we're very honored and feel very privileged to call Sheppard Air Force Base home and have this great community embrace us, support us, support our families ... make sure they're getting good educations and that they're living in safe neighborhoods," Doherty said.


As the sun began to set while the Thunderbirds signed their last autographs, Sheppard closed the gates and bid the people of Wichita Falls farewell until next time.


“Thank you to everyone who helped make this a successful event,” Cannon said. “We have an exceptional team and community partnership which makes every adventure both exciting and enjoyable because of our remarkable Airmen and the wonderful citizens of Wichita Falls.”


If you or someone you may know is interested in becoming a part of the Air Force family, contact your local recruiter, or visit for more information.

2016 Air Show photos can be viewed at our Flickr page.