Thunder in the Valley roars into Columbus Airport

Thunder in the Valley is an air show that’s grown and grown over the years. It started out in the late 1990s as a fly-in for area pilots. A fly-in is a social gathering of pilots and their aircraft.

The first fly-in attracted 3,000 spectators in one day. After a few of those gatherings, the organizers decided to invite professional pilots and flying groups and Thunder in the Valley was born. Since 1998, Thunder in the Valley has grown to attract more than 30,000 aviation buffs in two days at the Columbus Airport.

Director Phaedra Childers said the original idea was to hold a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts. Thunder in the Valley still benefits the Boy Scouts, but also other youth organizations like Girls Inc., Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club.

It’s such a big event now that it takes about 800 volunteers to pull it off, Childers said.

“It takes a lot of dedication to do an air show,” said Marty Flournoy, an acrobatics pilot, and member of the local EAA chapter. He’ll be enjoying this weekend’s show as a spectator.

Gates at the Columbus Airport open at 10 a.m., with the pre-show at noon. Fort Benning’s Silver Wings, the precision parachute team, will perform both days, opening the show at 1 p.m.

“Rocket” Rick Payne, a member of the local chapter of the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association), helps organize the show every year and will be one of the pilots who will be flying this weekend.

Payne is excited about the military aircraft -- the F-18s, naval fighter jets and the V-22 Osprey. a kind of hybrid helicopter-fixed wing craft -- that will be featured

Also performing is Team RV, the world’s largest formation flying act. Payne said this act has 12 aircraft flying together, and the sound is deafening.

As the final details of this year’s show are hammered out, the planning committee is also planning next year’s show. Childers said the top acts have to be booked that far in advance.

Payne said the Columbus Airport is an attractive one for pilots because of its location. He says in most metropolitan areas, the airport is far beyond the city limits. Columbus’ airport is smack-dab in the middle of the city.

It also gives spectators a close-up view of airplanes landing and taking off.

The pilots love Thunder in the Valley because of its hospitality, Childers said.

Besides seeing the planes and helicopters, there will be Vietnam-era military encampment near Gate No. 6.

“Young soldiers are interested at looking at the older stuff,” said long-time Thunder in the Valley supporter Robert Kemp.

“My dad was a pilot,” he said. “I love aviation. This is a good event for the benefit of the community. We gave some nice checks to youth organizations. That was my payday.”

Last year, more than $48,000 was distributed to various youth organizations.

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