Community members young and old came out in large Friday night in anticipation of this weekend’s 17th annual California Capital Airshow and to welcome some of the nation’s most elite pilots to town. 

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This weekend marks the first time the air show returns to its full capacity since the pandemic with an action-packed roster of demonstrations and displays. Among those many spectacles will be the performance of the US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team, whom the mixed and mingled with the public at the Village Green Park in Rancho Cordova Friday night at the free “Meet the Thunderbirds,” event. 

Friday’s family friendly event offered live music, a variety of food trucks and vendors as well a variety of fun games and activities for youngsters. The activity all culminated with community leaders and California Capital Air Show officials on stage as they welcomed the elite flying squad to the stage. 

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Rancho Cordova Mayor Linda Budge was one of many that spoke Friday night. A longtime resident of Rancho Cordova, Budge has enjoyed numerous air shows and the tourism it brings to the city each year since she has been a member of Rancho Cordova City Council in 2003 and through subsequent reelections.

As she took the stage, Budge was joined by Thunderbirds Commander, Leader Justin Elliott, where she presented him with a commemorative gold-plated key to the city. Elliott then welcomed his entire team to the stage where Budge personally welcomed each of them and presented them with their own version of the welcoming gift while those in attendance stood and applauded them for their service. 

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From there, Elliott spoke about the Thunderbirds organization, its background and day to day operations to the fans of all ages. He then took the time to introduce each of them one-by-one to the crowd and shared their background and stellar career accolades. Thereafter, the team stuck around to engage with community members for autographs, photo opportunities and more for an many will remember for years to come. 

“One of the most important things we want to do in our roles is to inspire,” said Elliott. “At every performance we have and at events like this tonight there are many kids in attendance, we hope some of them are inspired by what we do and may want to do it one day themselves.”

On May 25, 1953, just six years after the U.S. Air Force became its own branch of service, the Thunderbirds were born as the Air Force’s official air demonstration team. The team, designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit, was activated at Luke AFB, Arizona. Over the years and with many different aircraft, the Thunderbirds have continued to represent those who deserve the most credit: the hardworking Airmen who serve our country every day.

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Today, Thunderbirds perform for people all around the world to display the pride, precision and professionalism the U.S. Air Force represents. Through air shows and flyovers, they aim to excite and inspire. In addition to showcasing the elite skills all pilots must possess, the Thunderbirds demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The California Capital Air Show opens Saturday. The two-day event is action packed on the ground and in the air from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with flying performances taking place between noon and continuing until 4 p.m.

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All Town Media photos by Bill Sullivan

The two-day event will feature performances from some of the world’s most thrilling aircraft, not only the aforementioned USAF Thunderbirds, but numerous other jaw dropping performances from the sky and some 171 miles of aircraft displays and exhibits on the ground.

Additional exhilarating performances will include the, the return of the US Air Force C-17 Globemaster Demonstration, US Navy F-18 Super Hornet, and an awe-inspiring lineup of world-class civilian aerobatic performers, including a selection of vintage World War II aircraft.

“The Airshow will offer an incredible lineup of aircraft and performers from all over the world,” said Darcy Brewer, Executive Director of California Capital Airshow. “Our team works all year long to put on an event that the community will love, and we’ve added even more exhibits and experiences for attendees to enjoy this year.”

While most of the VIP and special package tickets are now sold out, a limited number of General admission tickets are still available as of Saturday morning. Tickets are not sold at the event and must be purchased online at www.californiacapitalairshow.com. One perk for families, one General Admission Ticket purchase includes up to 6 children (ages 15 & under) free admission. Tickets includes free parking and access to all displays and interactive exhibits.

Precise flying schedules are issued each day directly to show ticket holders. Here a sneak peek of what you can expect starting to today inside the gates of Mather airport and in the skies above:

USAF Thunderbirds

Get an impressive view of the action and watch the USAF Thunderbirds soar high above Mather Airport as they perform gravity-defying tricks. If you’re looking for a Sacramento airshow experience, you can expect the California Capital Airshow 2023 in Rancho Cordova to be nothing less than spectacular!

1941 J3 Cub

Eric Tucker’s current aviation adventure is a throwback to the glory days of Barnstorming. Flying an aircraft built in 1941, but designed in the late twenties, Tucker will be performing three very distinct acts: dead stick aerobatics, a comedy act and car-top landing, and a car-top takeoff.

Tucker’s bird is a stock, Cub Yellow with Black Lightning Bolt, 1941 J3 with a C-85 engine pumped up to 100hp. 100hp doesn’t sound like much until you consider that the original prototype for the Cub had just 20hp. So, weighing in at just 770 pounds, Tucker’s Cub is a fire-breather.

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Beechcraft F33C Bonanza

This specialized Beechcraft F33C Bonanza, one of 118 built, performs an amazing demonstration that will leave fans completely mesmerized! It is capable of a wide range of aerobatic maneuvers (unusual for a Bonanza) including loops, point rolls, barrel rolls, snap rolls, Cuban eights, and hammerheads (yes, it goes vertical).

The Bonanza handles it all in style and with Jim Peitz’s expert touch he makes it all look easy.

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A-10 Thunderbolt II

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is just plain (plane) cool! So ugly they call it the “Warthog,” a nickname that carries with it a great deal of affection and respect for this plane that isn’t afraid to get dangerously close to the action.

The “Warthog’s” large, unswept high-aspect ratio wing and large ailerons give it excellent low-speed, low-altitude maneuverability. In addition, many of the aircraft’s parts are interchangeable left and right, including the engines, main landing gear and vertical stabilizers. Both of these unique attributes make the A-10 easily serviced in remote airfields.

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Edge 540

Perfect for airshows not only because of Bill Stein’s amazing airshow flying routine, but also because his Edge 540 has a completely unique look.

Using cutting edge paint technology, Stein has designed the spectacular look of his new airplane using a paint that continuously changes color based on the angles between the spectators, the airplane, and the lighting from green to purple to blue along with gold, yellow, pink, and orange!

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U.S. Navy F/A-18 “Super” Hornet

All the way from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, Strike Fighter Squadron 122 is proud to showcase the F/A-18 to audiences around the world. Airshows are the best place to see a Super Hornet in action. The Tactical Demonstration or “Tac Demo” team flies the F/A-18 as close to the “edge of the envelope” as safety and prudence allow.

The routine highlights the Rhino’s maneuverability and slow-speed handling characteristics and is designed to showcase the mobility, versatility, and power of the F/A-18 for the citizens who look to the Navy for the defense of freedom. From the high “G” minimum radius turn to the slow speed “high-alpha” pass, the Demo flight puts the Rhino through its paces!

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F8F BearCat

Since around 1983, warbird expert Steve Hinton has performed at airshows all over the world in more than 150 different kinds of aircraft.
His restoration business has brought more than 40 warplanes back to perfect flying condition. He was a founding member of the Motion Picture Pilots Association, a civilian pilot with the USAF Heritage Flight, the holder of the World Speed Record, and the winner of the Reno Air Race. He has been the president of the Planes of Fame Aviation Museum since 1994. He has flown WWII fighters for more than 7,000 hours. Don’t miss out on the chance to see this plane in action!

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C-17 Globemaster III Tactical Flying Demonstration

The C-17 demo team will redefine “Crank & Bank” as they maneuver an aircraft weighing more than 250,000 pounds across Rancho Cordova’s sky. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this massive C-17 perform at the airshow this year.

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U2 “Dragon Lady”

A top-secret military installation (the Ranch) outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, hosted the U-2’s debut flight in 1955. Utility is represented by the “U” in “U-2.” The “Dragon Lady” has been a cornerstone of NASA and the U.S. Air Force since the 1950s.
Even from the USS America, the U-2 has carried out operations from aircraft carriers.
The U-2 can fly at higher heights than some of the most cutting-edge fifth generation fighter aircraft of today, right up to the edge of space, thanks to its enormous wings!
That is evidence of the incredible engineering prowess of the best minds in America.

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Fun on the ground for all ages

Display Aircrafts

In addition to watching the spectacular performances, you’ll have the chance to explore grounded planes, meet pilots and interact with crew members. This is your chance to get up close, especially if you love aviation. Nothing is more fascinating than touring vintage military planes, especially ones that flew back in World War II.

This year you can expect to see, and even climb through, some of the largest military planes the US military has to offer including the C-5 Super Galaxy M, C-17 Globemaster II, KC-10 Extender, & KC-135 Stratotanker! Explore the air delivery service vessels in two of the largest air-cargo fleets in the world and meet the first responders and aircrafts that make up the law enforcement, medi-vac, surveillance and firefighting agencies in the U.S.

Vendor Booths

In addition to the show in the sky, first-class entertainment is still on the ground with food, drinks, and vendor booths aplenty! ATMs are NOT available, but every vendor will have options to pay with debit or credit card.

Bill Sullivan
Author: Bill Sullivan