Air Show Report : Thunder & Lightning over Arizona 2021 - Davis-Monthan AFB
Thunder & Lightning over Arizona 2021
The final air show in 2021 for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds was Thunder & Lightning over Arizona on Nov. 5-6 at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. Report and photos by Dave O'Brien.
Even though we started to get back from Covid, some air shows decided to cancel rather than have their events this summer. I had three shows cancel that I planned on attending this year, two of those I was going to travel to (MCAS Cherry Point & NAS Oceana). Then I looked at NAS Pensacola but they moved their show to a Pensacola Beach. My last attempt was Davis-Monthan in Tucson and I wasn’t let down.
This was my first time shooting an air show at Davis-Monthan, for picture taking, you are shooting into the sun all day. Friday & Sunday I shot from E. Irvington Rd, which is pretty much show center, just off base. A lot of the demo acts would do their 360 afterburner turns right over us. I went onto the base on Saturday, they had the most impressive static display I have seen since Aviation Nation at Nellis AFB. The only downfall was the majority of the aircraft were in these sun shelters, which made taking decent shots impossible. Also, with the show not allowing large camera bags on base, I did not bring my second camera body with a wide-angle lens.
All three days, Friday to Sunday, were sunny and warm, upper 80s to low 90s °F. I flew from New Hampshire where it was 50 °F, so this was a big change. So, I was very thankful for those sun shelters when I went on base, it was great to sit underneath them and then move out when the flying started.
The show kicked off with an HC-130J departing with the US Navy Leap Frogs parachute team and jumping with the American flag during the National Anthem. Kirby Chambliss went up next in his Red Bull stunt plane. Next up was Vicky Benzing in her red Stearman biplane. Kirby Pietsch took his Jelly Belly plane, then the Aftershock Jet Fire truck came out and raced down the runway, he came out a few other times and raced planes throughout the day.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo took to the skies next. They flew an E model on Saturday, but an F model on Sunday. This was a very impressive demo, seemed like the afterburner was on for most of his show. WWII planes went up next, B-17 “Sentimental Journey”, B-25 “Semper Fi”, F6F Hellcat & a C-47 “Old Number 30”, they did multiple passes each. A CSAR demo was performed next, showing how a downed pilot would be rescued. This had a pair of A-10s, an EC-130H, the HC-130J, and two MH-60 Pavehawks.
Greg Colyer went up in his T-33 Shooting Star and then the A-10C Demo from right here at Davis-Monthan AFB. The F-35A Demo took off after the A-10, and boy this demo was so awesome. Major Kristin “BEO” Wolfe rocked the house with this fifth-generation fighter. So many great passes in full burner and the clear blue skies really made the afterburner pop. While the A-10 Demo jet loitered during the F-35 Demo, a P-51D Mustang launched to fly the Heritage Flight Demo with the F-35.
After the Heritage planes landed, the Red Bull helicopter and parachute team went up next. Crazy to see a helo do a barrel role. Tom Larkin took up his “Mini Jet Air show” jet, this looks like the small aircraft from the James Bond movie.
The show was closed out with the final 2021 appearance of the USAF Thunderbirds. It was a great end to a tough air show season, we’re all hoping for more shows next year.
Report and photos by Dave O'Brien ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 1 January 2022