Thunderbirds in town for airshow July 23-24

The U.S. Thunderbirds will take the skies over Great Falls again next weekend at the 2022 Flight Over the Falls at the airport.

The airshow is July 23-24 and celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Montana Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force.

The Guard is hosting the event this year, in partnership with Malmstrom Air Force Base, and entry is free.

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Malmstrom hosted an open house event in 2019 and the Thunderbirds were last here in 2017 at the Guard’s air show.

Lt. Col. Cody Smith, logistics readiness squadron commander at the 120th Airlift Wing, said that this year, the flying acts will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the ramp with static displays will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and parking opens at 8 a.m.

“This is about our airmen,” Smith said, and the event will feature areas to see demonstrations on how to change a C-130 tire, security forces operations, a day in the life of a missileer and more.

The 120th will have all the aircraft the unit has flown in its 75-year history, except for the F-89, either flying or as a static display.

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The 120th is hosting the airshow with a large contingent of airmen and aircraft deployed and more preparing to leave this fall, Smith said.

A new component of the event this year is a STEM Lab area that will have various displays on science, technology, engineering and math, from 14 vendors. The Guard is partnering with Great Falls Public Schools and STARBASE for the lab.

“We’re really fired up for that,” Smith said.

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The show will include aerial acts and ground performers, including a pyro act. For that performance, the airfield has been preburned to prevent any safety issues, Smith said.

To prepare for the event, and as part of training, the Guard coordinated with other local agencies to conduct a mass casualty exercise in May with a scenario involving a civilian aircraft crashing into a crowd to stretch the EMS response and communication systems.

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They’ll also be doing a response drill on July 22 as they finalize preparations for the weekend show, Smith said.

The weekend event will include food and drink vendors, a children’s area with bounce houses and other activities, a medical tent and more.

It will be hot and organizers recommend sunscreen, hats and bringing a refillable water bottle as there will be water stations throughout the area.

Smith said that attendees should expect a heavy security presence and that bags will be searched, people may be wanded. Coolers are not allowed with some exceptions for medicine or baby formula. Detailed information about allowable and prohibited items is on the event website.

Organizers also remind attendees that because the event is on federal property, marijuana of any kind or any weapons, regardless of carry permits, are not allowed.

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The traffic situation is “less than exemplary” but everyone involved is doing their best to make it work, Smith said.

All outbound traffic from the airshow will be directed right onto the interstate toward Ulm and the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office will have a barrier and deputy posted to turn traffic around back to Great Falls.

Smith encouraged attendees not to be in a hurry when leaving the airshow and organizers ask that everyone doesn’t try to leave at the same time when the flying acts are done.

Tickets are still available for the premium seating on the flightline and can be purchased on the event website.