Thunder in the Valley air show brings 'air show groupies' to Columbus

For pilot John Laughter, the flight isn’t about reaching his destination or how quickly he gets there. It’s about being up in the air.

“If you like flying, you’re where you want to be,” he says. Laughter is a former Navy fighter pilot, Vietnam veteran and retired airline pilot, but these days most of his trips are “just around the patch” he says, to visit other pilot friends.

But this week, Laughter’s destination will be the Columbus Airport for the 14th annual Thunder in the Valley air show, where he’ll fly as part of the Stearman formation team.

The two-seat open cockpit planes were used as training aircraft for pilots during World War II, then later sold as surplus and used as crop dusters. While about 10,000 were built for the war, only about 1,000 are currently flown worldwide.

Laughter and the three other pilots on the Stearman team will fly a series of basic formations and maneuvers as part of the air show, while paying respect to the men and women who designed, maintained and flew the planes in WWII.

Tom Bryan, marketing director for Thunder in the Valley, said this year’s show will include about four hours of flying acts, like the Stearman formation team, as well as several antique and contemporary aircraft, military aircraft and a M1 Abrams tank -- more than enough to please the “air show groupies” -- aviation enthusiasts who travel around to different shows, Bryan said.

Airplane and helicopter rides also will be available, for those brave enough to leave the ground. For the kids, there’s a children’s carnival.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at any Columbus-area McDonald’s, the Wells Fargo banks in Columbus, Pine Mountain, Hamilton, Fort Benning and Phenix City, Cricket Communications, Omega World Travel at Fort Benning and at Flightways Columbus at the airport. Tickets will also be available at the gate.

Proceeds from the event go to help area youth organizations.

Those who attend the show can also expect plenty of noise as the aircraft take off, perform their acrobatics and land.

“We think it’s the loudest event,” Bryan joked.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469