By: Kristen Hernandez

Fort Lauderdale Beach, FL — The high-energy, soaring speed of the United States Military came back to Fort Lauderdale Beach this April and brought a string of touching tributes along for the ride. Spectators were treated to two action-packed days of patriotic performances that were so death defying, they seemed plucked out of a movie.

Saturday’s show began with a little turbulence when late morning thunderstorms led to the postponement of the opening performers, the Socom Para-Commandos American flag jump-in. The Special Ops Team consists of multiple military branches. They free-fall while creating canopy formations with the flag and then land precisely on target in front of a crowd. The anticipated opening was pushed to Sunday, which was a perfect, clear day.

There were several championship performances that made a perfect landing. Mike Goulian (USAF) is one of the top aerobatic pilots in the world. He steered the EXTRA 330SC Jet, which was custom built for Mike to be lighter, faster, and more maneuverable than any other aircraft like it. Mike’s show had the EXTRA tumbling and rotating at breath-taking speeds, showcasing lots of attitude at a low altitude. The F-35 Lightning II Stealth was flown by the “Rough Riders” (nod to DMX) and led by Lt. Commander (USN) Joe “811” Calvi, pictured here. The Riders demonstrated the power and speed of two F-35 Stealth’s as they blasted high up into the clear blue sky. The highly anticipated Thunderbirds also performed using a combination of pin-point precision formations and solo maneuvers, like the four-jet diamond formation where aircraft wingtips got as close as 4-feet apart while simultaneously performing loops, inverted rolls, and even high-performance turns.

The exhilarating show was made sweeter when the Thunderbirds paid tribute to Hometown Hero, Gwendolyn Whitfield. One fateful day in March 2022, Whitfield demonstrated her calm and resilience under pressure in a massive way during a tragic active shooter situation aboard a Broward County city bus Whitfield happened to be driving. Jamal Meyers opened fired on the crowded bus, killing two men and wounding several others. While the dramatic scene unfolded, Whitfield steered the panicked passengers up the wrong side of Broward Boulevard until she pulled iinto the Fort Lauderdale Police Department parking lot, where Meyers was apprehended at the scene.

Her heroic actions were recognized by Broward County Mayor, Michael Udine, who awarded Whitfield the Medal of Valor and declared April 5th as Gwendolyn Whitfield Day. During the air show, Whitfield experienced the chance of a lifetime when she got to take a ride in the backseat of an F-16. “It’s such an honor to be here,” said Whitfield before taking off, “I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”

“As Thunderbirds,” said Major Jacob “Primo” Impellizzeri, USAF to Chanel 10 before the Whitfield flight, “we stand for Excellence and Service for something greater than ourselves and Gwendolyn epitomized that the day of the attack on her bus.”

The incredible spectacle wrapped up with a heartwarming Thank You performance to recognize the families of the military who are left behind while their loved ones fight to keep America free. The tribute consisted of 8 jets which shot up into the sky and broke into two sets of four, forming a heart with their smoke trail, high above the beach and returning back to a roaring applause from thrilled spectators.

This year’s air presentation was like an orchestra in the sky, offering a synchronized display of patriotism to remind us that while we’re here, sometimes fighting each other, our brave military fight for each and every one of us to be free, regardless of our skin color. The Fort Lauderdale Air Show 2022 was such a success, they are already gearing up and greasing their wheels in preparation for the 2023 Air Show schedule. Tickets will be available on their website and the performance line-up will be announced soon. Check out www.fortlauderdaleairshow.com for details.

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