U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Come to Kalispell Aug 30-31

By DILLON TABISH for the Flathead Beacon

Spectacular. Thrilling. Unbelievable. Everyone seems to describe an airshow with the same superlative awe.

“My first one was in the early ‘80s in Montana and I just remember how excited I got,” said Chris Parson. “It’s just an exciting and thrilling opportunity.”

Parson, vice president of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, is now helping bring that opportunity to Kalispell for an expected crowd of 30,000 people over two days.

The latest signature event to hit the Flathead, the Mountain Madness Airshow, is Aug. 30-31 at Glacier Park International Airport and will feature a full lineup of riveting acts and performers, including the much-heralded Thunderbirds, an air demonstration squadron with the U.S. Air Force. Tickets are $15-$20 for the massive airshow, which is the only one being hosted in Montana this year.

“There’s a lot of different acts and several performances, and when the show starts there will always be something going on,” said Parson.


Before the action-packed event launches, the chamber of commerce is hosting a “pre-flight party” at Depot Park in downtown Kalispell on Friday, Aug. 29. Talented local country singer Kayla Adams will perform at the event, which kicks off at 5 p.m. The event is free and will feature food vendors and members of the Thunderbirds who will be available to sign autographs.

The Thunderbirds are a team of highly experienced Air Force officers who tour the nation holding airshow demonstrations. The awe-inspiring shows feature fighter jets performing acrobatic maneuvers in the sky. Twirling overhead, the planes exceed 1,000 mph and sometimes come as close as 18 inches to each other.

One of Kalispell’s own has earned his way into the vaunted squadron. Captain Jason Curtis, a 1999 Flathead High School graduate, is piloting one of the jets in this year’s touring airshow. He attended Flathead Valley Community College before transferring to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he graduated in 2004. Before joining the Thunderbirds, Curtis was an F-16 instructor pilot and flight commander for the 308th Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. He has logged more than 1,750 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 280 hours of combat experience in the F-16C. Curtis is currently in his second season with the Thunderbirds.

Curtis will appear at FVCC at 10 a.m., Aug. 29 to talk with students and members of the community about his career and the importance of education. The free event will be held in the Arts and Technology building.

The Thunderbirds will be accompanied by several other memorable performers over the weekend.

Kent Pietsch is a renowned pilot who performs aerobatic moves with his “Jelly Belly Airplane,” a classic plane that oftentimes loses parts and quits mid-flight, leaving Kent to improvise, rather comically, in the skies.


Will Allen, known as the “Flying Tenor,” has earned a reputation for bringing a new type of performance to the air. He sings the national anthem live from the cockpit of his Pitts bi-plane while performing acrobatic moves choreographed to the cadence of the anthem.

The action won’t be limited to the skies, either. The Flash Fire Jet Truck, driven by Neal Darnell, holds the world record for fastest jet powered truck. He will kick it into gear for another breath-taking attempt in Kalispell.

Alongside the performances, the airshow will feature vendors, concessionaires, a beer garden and a 200-feet by 200-feet kids zone. There will also be aircraft displays throughout the grounds.

The event is family friendly, and a must-see for aviation enthusiasts, or anyone interested in the art of flight.

“This is a unique opportunity that people don’t get to have very often,” Parson said.

For spectators, early arrival is recommended. Those using general parking should anticipate 15 to 20 minutes to park and walk to the airshow’s main gate. Shuttles near the handicap spaces and VIP parking will run between the airshow’s front gates and the lot for free. A $5 parking donation is recommended and all proceeds will go to area nonprofits.

Those flying on commercial passenger flights out of Glacier Park International Airport should arrive at least two hours ahead of their flight.

For more information, visit www.montanaairshow.com.