The roaring engines could be heard all over the tarmac Thursday at Tri-Cities Airport while the six planes from the Patriots Jet Team made their way single-file down the taxiway.
The L-39 Albatrostrainer jets then parked in a row near Bergstrom Aviation to prepare for this weekend’s HAPO Over the River Airshow at the Tri-City Water Follies.
The jet team is like a civilian version of the Navy’s Blue Angels, said airshow spokesman Matthew Bishop.
The Patriots’ performance is more constant, however, because at least one of the jets is doing a maneuver throughout the 24- to 26-minute exhibition.
“They do a good show, but they do a pass and they go away,” Patriots pilot Rob “Scratch” Mitchell said of the Blue Angels. “We aim to do something every five seconds.”
Mitchell, who at 45 is the self-described “baby” of the Patriots, has performed in the Tri-Cities before with the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds.
This will be his first time performing over the Columbia River, but the Patriots do a number of shows over water, including Seattle’s Seafair and San Francisco’s Fleet Week, he said.
The all-volunteer Patriots perform at only eight venues per year, away from home about 50 to 60 days, Mitchell said. So they try to make it count.
The first of three hour-and-45 minute air show performances is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday. It will start at the same time Saturday and Sunday.
Also new to the airshow this year is the “Sky Dancer,” Anna Serbinenko. The aerobatics performer, who like Mitchell now lives in Vancouver, B.C., said she is the only female show pilot in Canada, and only a handful of American women perform in air shows.
Serbinenko’s eight-to-12 minute performance is like an air ballet, with classical music like Ave Maria playing while she is in the air, she said. She tries to show the grace and elegance of flying in her American Champion Super Decathlon aircraft.
“It’s not about the power, it’s about the precision of flying,” she said. “A woman flyer doesn’t have to be a version of a man.”
Serbinenko, 32, was not able to fly in her native Ukraine because only military members can learn to fly there, she said.
This year’s show will also mark the return of the F-16 Fighting Falcon for the first time in five years. Capt. Craig “Rocket” Baker, 32, of Gray’s Creek, N.C., is piloting the jet in his eighth event, but his first airshow in the Tri-Cities.
Air Force budget cuts shelved the F-16 airshow program for a few years, but it now hopes the flights will inspire young people to join the military, said Technical Sgt. John Crow, 33, of Columbia, S.C., who jokes that he provides “nerd tech support” for Baker.
“It’s real exciting,” said Crow, who has worked at 38 air shows. “There was an emptiness we felt after not being able to do it for several years. It’s great to be back out and be able to inspire young people who may want to be in the Air Force and get to fly these great machines.”
The F-16 will fly over the crowds at speeds up to 650 mph during its 12-minute performance, Baker said. It will also perform side-by-side with a World War II-era P-51 Mustang in the Heritage Flight.
“We always say if it doesn’t give you chills, you need to check your pulse,” he said.
Also performing will be the Lucas Oil Aerobatics plane.
“The power of the F-16, the grace of Anna, the patriotism of the jet team — it’s going to be an awe-inspiring airshow,” Bishop said. “I can’t say that enough.”