The United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, aka the Thunderbirds, have been twisting through Cheyenne’s skies since 1953, but another group of pilots has also been criss-crossing through capital city clouds for decades.
According to its website, the Wyoming Air National Guard was first organized in a small hangar on the southwest side of Cheyenne Municipal Airport as the Army Air Forces’ 402nd Fighter Squadron was deactivated Nov. 10, 1945 – and then reactivated as the 187th Fighter Squadron. The unit was allotted to the National Guard on Aug 10, 1946, under Maj. Robert E. Sedman.
Cheyenne residents can celebrate this rich military aviation history Sept. 11 and 12 at the 2021 Wild West Air Show.
Event director Max McMillan said the Guard has been doing shows like this for several years, but the Thunderbirds’ event is better known because the group performs during Cheyenne Frontier Days. However, the Air National Guard’s shows have something the Thunderbirds don’t: only the former is allowed to fly over Cheyenne Regional Airport.
“The Thunderbirds can’t fly over the airport because Cheyenne Airport has been here for over 100 years,” McMillan said. “And the older the airport, the tighter the residential area around it is. Also, a jet cannot maneuver in the limited airspace. So one of the ideas was, what if we did an air show [with smaller planes] at the airport proper and just sort of hosted local Wyomingites here in town?”
The event will feature some of best aerobatic pilot groups in the country, including Breckenridge, Colorado-based Rower Airshows; Denver-based Mini Jet Airshows; Lyons, Colorado-based Free Man Air Shows; Luthersville, Georgia-based Wild Horse Aviation; and Front Range-based Rocky Mountain Renegades (who fly up to seven aircraft in various close aerobatic formations).
Participating pilots will perform on prop planes, and the featured aircraft will include a Stearman, a modified SubSonex (mini) Jet and an Extra 330LX. These planes are allowed to fly over the local airport because they’re not as loud, big or fast as the jets people usually associated with air shows like the Thunderbirds’, but their smaller size makes them more agile and perfect for aerobatic demonstrations.
In total, the event will feature more than 30 historic and modern civilian and military aircraft, both in the air and on the ground for static displays.
The biggest differences between the Guard show and the Thunderbirds’, McMillan said, is this one is designed for a local/regional audience, it serves as a STEM/aviation showcase for all the Front Range colleges that were invited to attend, and it doubles as an open house and food truck rally, featuring food for sale and several different types of planes lined up in car show-fashion on the apron (often incorrectly called the tarmac).
In addition to being two days of family-friendly fun, McMillan hopes the event can inspire some young people to explore the many career possibilities that exist in the military and aviation, in general.
“Wyoming’s the Equality State, so this is to sort of demonstrate … you have plenty of opportunity here,” McMillan said. “Especially in regards to minorities because they are underrepresented in STEM and aviation. We’re saying ‘Hey, no matter what your background and your demographic upbringing, you have opportunities.’”
The organizer planned a full day of activities for eventgoers, so he recommends getting there early – “there” meaning the JAX parking lot at Frontier Mall, where you can catch a free shuttle over to the show – before checking out the static displays, getting a bite to eat, then finally enjoying the air show from 1-3 p.m.
Although he’s an air traffic controller and not a pilot, McMillan is deeply passionate about aviation and is thrilled to share this passion with his fellow Cheyenne residents.
“It’s part of my heritage that I sort of adopted when I moved to Cheyenne,” he said. “But also, there’s just so much history here. ... I love Cheyenne, and if I can help honor that history and heritage, I’m going to do my best.”