Thunderbirds coming to Mankato

Four F-16s from the United States Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the Mankato Municipal Airport during an air show in 2003. The precision flying team will be making its return to Mankato next summer. File photo

MANKATO — After having to wait a decade between airshows in Mankato, area residents will get to see the second major show in three years as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds come to town June 27, 28.

The Thunderbirds will be joined by the Army Gold Knights parachute performance team.

"It's like having two headliners come," said Burt Lyman, executive director of the Mankato Civic Center, which helps coordinate the show.

"We're fortunate and somewhat surprised to get them so soon after the Blue Angels."

The Navy's Blue Angels were in Mankato in 2012.

Before that, Mankato hadn't had an airshow since 2003, when the Thunderbirds were here. They were also in Mankato in 1999.

One thing that will be different in this appearance is the Thunderbirds will land at the Mankato Airport, something they didn't do on past visits. In the past, they staged in the Twin Cities and then flew to Mankato to do the air show before flying back to the Cities.

"It's much more dramatic when they land here," Lyman said.

The Thunderbirds' performance specifications require a runway that is slightly longer than the one at the Mankato Airport, but the performance team agreed to land here if the city gets a backup piece of safety equipment for the show.

The "arresting gear" is a cable system — like the one's seen on aircraft carriers — that catch and slow down a jet as they land. But unlike those used on aircraft carriers, the ones that will be put at the end of the Mankato runway won't likely see any use.

"These pilots aren't going to overshoot a runway. It's just something we have to have in place," Lyman said.

Lyman said they have also already contracted with the Oracle Team and John Klatt for the airshow for the 2015 Minnesota Air Spectacular. He said more acts will be contracted with as the event draws closer.

Now, a variety of local groups, including the Airport Commission, civic center, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, the city and others will be working on details of the show, which will draw thousands of spectators. "The tough thing now is to make it cash flow."

Lyman said they will buy rain insurance to cover loses if the event is rained out. "The end of June is a pretty good time to have it as far as weather.

"There's a lot of work to be done, but it's very exciting. These military performers are just excellent to work with, they're just first class human beings. It makes it fun."

The Thunderbirds fly F-16 jets while the Blue Angels fly F/A-18 jets.

Based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Thunderbirds are in their 62nd season, performing in 39 locations in 2015. They will do their first performance of 2015 at the opening of the Super Bowl in Phoenix on Feb. 1.

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