It’s hard to imagine a more awesome demonstration of American air power than the F-22A Raptor.
Aviation experts agree it is the most maneuverable supersonic stealth jet fighter in the world — a lethal dogfighting machine which can outpace and evade virtually anything on land, sea or air.
The “Thunder Over New Hampshire” airshow this weekend at the Pease Air National Guard base in Newington promises an up-close look at this aerial phenomenon, together with a highly choreographed demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in their F-16s.
With its clipped stealth wings, twin engines and integrated avionics, the F-22A Raptor can go from standing still on a runway to climbing the top of Mount Everest — about 30,000 feet — in 60 seconds.
For Air Force Maj. Joshua “Cabo’’ Gunderson, the F-22’s pilot and demonstration team commander, it’s another day at work. Gunderson flew in Thursday morning from Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va., about 660 miles away.
“Pretty awesome airplane,” Gunderson said. “There are a lot of cool things that make this unique. It’s the most maneuverable, capable air-to-air fighter in the world.”
The Raptor, its weapons hidden in enclosed bays, sits in its own open-ended hangar on the sprawling Pease base awaiting the Saturday and Sunday afternoon shows.
The airshow will showcase a U.S. special operations parachute team and ground displays of other aircraft, including the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-17 Globemaster and C-130J Superhercules.
Pease is home to the 157th Air Refueling Wing. Twelve of the wing’s KC-46A Pegasus aerial refuelers sat neatly lined up facing the taxiway Thursday. The air wing’s motto for the weekend: “Live Free and Fly.”
Herb Gillen, one of the show’s promoters, says as many as 40,000 spectators are expected.
A parking pass is required to get into the air show. As of late Thursday afternoon, Gillen said the Saturday passes were sold out. Only a limited number of Sunday passes were still available at the Thunder Over New Hampshire website, he said.
While much of the hype around the show at Thursday’s media briefing centered on the addition of a single F-22A Raptor, the Thunderbirds’ eight F-16 Fighting Falcons have managed to create a good deal of excitement of their own.
Maj. Kyle Oliver of Beavercreek, Ohio, has flown both Raptors and F16s.
“I would say the Raptor was my dream aircraft, but the Thunderbirds was my dream job,” he said. Oliver flies Thunderbird No. 6, the opposing solo position.
After COVID-19 grounded most airshows in 2020, the Thunderbirds continued training flights. They used the down time to choreograph a new aerial demonstration which debuted in April at Cocoa Beach Air Show in Florida and will be presented at Pease Saturday and Sunday.
Col. John Caldwell, the commander of the aerial team, flies the lead F-16.
“The crowd will feel the thunder in their chests by hearing the jets roar, seeing the speed, seeing the motion, and seeing the precision of our team flying 18 inches apart,” he said.
He added, “It projects the power, pride, and professionalism of the U.S. Air Force to the American public.”
Rob Reider, one of the country’s most famous air show announcers, will announce this weekend’s spectacle.
“Air shows are probably one of the last places a person can go and not feel embarrassed about being patriotic,” he said.