Behind the scenes of the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show

Senior Airman Nathan McLallen, 914th Security Forces Squadron, directs vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show on July 19, 2015. More than 200 security personnel were used at traffic control points and entrances, as well as, providing public safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Nichols)

Senior Airman Nathan McLallen, 914th Security Forces Squadron, directs vehicular and pedestrian traffic during the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show on July 19, 2015. More than 200 security personnel were used at traffic control points and entrances, as well as, providing public safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin Nichols)

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation over Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. during the Thunder of Niagara air show, July 18, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Sawyer)

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team, fly in formation over Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. during the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show, July 18, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Sawyer)

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. -- As performers departed the base following the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show, members of the 914th Airlift Wing reflected on the execution of the event and impact on the thousands of people that attended from our Western New York community.

The show, which ran from July 18-19, 2015, here, featured performances from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army Golden Knights, as well as, many other local and national aerial demonstrations. Additionally, there were many static displays, concessionaries selling food and souvenirs and various booths providing recruiting and promotional opportunities.

Personnel and units from across the Wing came together to plan for this highly anticipated event. It takes a monumental amount of help and coordination to prepare the base to be open to the public and facilitate the arrival of more than 60,000 spectators for the three-day event.

"The public loved it," said Air Force Maj. Ben Canetti, 914th Operations Support Squadron, Air Show Director. "I've been watching the Facebook posts, comments from the papers and the media and it's been five-star reviews for the whole thing."

On Friday, July 17, the base held a VIP preview show that was limited to family, friends and invited guests. As part of this event, Reservists were encouraged to invite their civilian employers on an incentive-based C-130 Hercules flight, designed to help demonstrate the dynamic mission of the 914 AW and help educate employers on the commitment that comes with being in the Air Force Reserve.

"The Bosses Day on July 17, 2015, sponsored by Employers in Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) was a tremendous success for numerous reasons," said Bob Miller, chairman, WNY ESGR Committee. "In conjunction with the 914th Airlift Wing we were able to demonstrate some of the various duties that reserve members perform on the base, and why they are critical. We were able to get over 100 Statements of Support, signed by employers, pledging their support of the Guard and Reserve which will be displayed in the employer's workplace for all employees, managers, vendors, and visitors to see. Finally we were able to applaud them as employers and help them recognize that without their support we wouldn't be able to have the outstanding military defense that we currently have."

As with any large-scale performance that draws thousands of visitors, there are many details that go into the execution of a successful performance. Coordinating the performers and sharing the flight line with commercial aircraft is just one of the many challenges that are part of an air show. It is the responsibility of the Air Boss to ensure an enjoyable show. Air Force Captains Ryan Mowers and Daniel Herr from the 328th Airlift Squadron and 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show air bosses were up to the task. 

"It's a cheesy way to put it, but we're the conductors of the Air Show once it starts," said Mowers. "We're on radios communicating with all the performers and the tower, making sure we keep the show running. We tried to put together an entertaining show--each act brings a different aspect of performance, so we wanted to arrange them in a way that keeps the audience engaged."

With all the moving parts, Mowers and Herr had a very challenging job, but it was clear what was most important to them.

"All decisions are based on how to safely run the air show," said Mowers. 

Across the installation in the Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC) the 914th Security Forces Squadron was also focused on the safety of spectators. The uniqueness of, and, economical value--who can argue with free, of the 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show and open house brought huge crowds and, with those crowds, an uncommon security posture. During the event more than 200 security personnel were used during air show hours to direct traffic, operate the security checkpoints at entrances and provide a continuous law enforcement presence.

"We had support from several outside agencies to augment our team," said Air Force Maj. Nathan List, commander, 914th Security Forces Squadron. "Participation from multiple local K-9 units, as well as, personnel from other bases that brought distinct expertise and unmatched professionalism."

Behind the scenes the 914 SFS rose to the many challenges that presented themselves during the show. The unpredictable weather guaranteed our cops had to adapt to unusual circumstances with high temperatures and thunderstorms creating a challenging environment.

"We actually had a lightning strike Sunday morning that knocked out power to our facility at 4:00 AM," said List. "We had to arm up 200 personnel in limited light which required an elevated level of discipline from our Defenders. A huge thanks to the communications people, Pat Battista and SSI, that got us back online."

Throughout all the hard work and long hours, members of 914 SFS leadership were impressed with the professionalism of their personnel and efforts to keep morale high.

"Hashtag proud of our Defenders," said Air Force Capt. Jessica Stone, operations officer, 914 SFS, with a smile. "I received personal compliments from people that stopped me here on base--even one of my landlord's family members that came to my house, thanking me for the job my troops did. Our personnel are the first contact visitors have coming through the gate and it was 100% a positive experience."

The 2015 Thunder of Niagara Air Show was enjoyed by thousands of guests and base personnel. Kind words and appreciation filled the air as visitors returned to their vehicles after a long day, both Saturday and Sunday.

"There are two things I got out of this experience," said Canetti. "The first is the company tagline and why bases do air shows: it's recruiting, community relations and to display our airpower. Community relations really hits home, for me, because many of us were born and raised in the surrounding area and the looks on people's faces while they watch the show is awesome. Military members sometimes take it for granted because of how often we're a part of it."

Canetti's brow furrowed as he prepared his final thoughts on the show before he departed for a well-deserved vacation.

"Number two--the team that we built for this," said Canetti. "I actually get embarrassed taking all the thanks that I personally got over the weekend, so I keep saying it's obvious that not one person could do this. So I send a huge thanks for the whole staff that put on an amazing show."