Heart-Stopper Rochester Airshow 2023

Story and photos by Lauren Chamberlain

For the first time since 2019, the airshow returned to Rochester this past weekend. This event was held at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport on August 12 and 13. The 2023 A.P. Property Services Rochester Airshow acts as a bridge between history and the present, as well as a connection between the United States Military and the citizens it protects.

The airshow featured multiple aerobatic demonstrations as well as ground displays of different era planes, local food vendors and much more.

The biggest anticipated event of this year’s airshow was the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force. Established in 1953, they were assigned to the 57th Wing and are based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. They are the third-oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world. Surpassed only by the United States Navy Blue Angels, 1946, and the French Air Force Patrouille de France, 1931.

The squadron’s name comes from the legendary creature in numerous indigenous North American cultures. The lore says there were Natives who could transform into Thunderbirds in order to protect humans. How fitting, as these Thunderbirds’ goal is to display the pride, precision, and professionalism of the United States Air Force.

Monroe county is one of thirty-four host communities for the Thunderbirds. Besides them, this years event featured many other demonstrations including Michael Goulian Aerosports, Rick Volker – Sukhoi SU-26 M Aerobatics, Redline Airshows, Class of ’45, Bent Wing Bros., Misty Blues Skydiving Team and National Warplane Museum Whiskey 7 – just to name a few.

I got to see Michael Goulian Aerosports and the Thunderbirds aerial demonstrations. Goulian was one of the youngest pilots to win the United States Unlimited Aerobatic Championship at age 27. His performance was exhilarating. Many of his displays of skill were heart-stopping. Not only did he repeatedly fly upside down, but there would be moments he would stall in air and seemingly free fall until at the last minute looping back up and around at the drop of a dime. It was incredible to see. But terrifying.

I was immensely impressed by this performance and little did I know what was to follow. The Thunderbirds certainly live up to their hype. I think what created the most power was the buildup. We watched the Air Force airmen perform all the safety checks and preparations. They move in perfect synchrony. It shows the immense discipline and precision they have.

The Thunderbirds really know how to put on a show. Right from takeoff they had the crowd fired up. If I had to sum up their demonstration it would be this sense of dread – however, not in a bad way. Their routine highlights different groupings of the six aircraft in formation as well as solo routines. For the most part, the show has the four-ship Diamond formation that shows the accuracy and gracefulness that every U.S. Air Force pilot gains from training and the F-16 Fighting Falcons jets.

Then two solo jets showed the absolute power and capabilities of the Air Forces frontline fighters. The sense of dread I mentioned before comes from the stealth that these jets have that you would not suspect. Before you know it, they are flying over you.

All the audience’s attention is on the runway. In all the awe, you almost forget – there are two others flying. Before you can remember this, an immense force is hurtling above your head. You can feel it shake your bones and ripple your ear drums (I do recommend earplugs or ear protection). Then they are gone again. It elicits this exciting fear that makes you spin in circles waiting, watching, searching for those solo flyers before they are upon you. It achieves a jumpscare that no horror film could even hope to replicate.

Overall, it was a commanding and influential display of our nation’s power. Truly something everyone should see. For the longest time I thought pilots were at mercy of their technology. But after the airshow, I know it to be the opposite. They truly have the controls. Next time the airshow is in Rochester, add it to your list of summer adventures. You will not regret it.


Lauren Chamberlain, originally from Irondequoit, NY, is double majoring in Writing & Communication Arts and Visual Communications Design at Keuka College. She will graduate in 2024. Lauren is a long time lover of reading and writing. At Keuka College she has created two publications including Who is Penn Yan? Volume 8 and the school’s literary magazine, Crooked Lake Collections.

1 Comment

  • Donna Pickard says:

    Awesome photos…..I was not at the air show but I got to see them fly in the distance for one trick…..you have to find them ahead of the sound and that is difficult!

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