Rockford AirFest refueled and ready for Thunderbirds

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After a disappointing cancellation last year, Rockford AirFest is ready for lift off in 2014.

The Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD) recently announced “Rockford AirFest 2014: Let the Thunder Roll,” will be held June 7 and 8.

AirFest will be headlined by the U.S.A.F. Thunderbird Demonstration Team and will also feature the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team.

“We're very excited. To have the ability to have the Thunderbirds, we're very excited,” Deputy Director Amy Ott said.

The Thunderbirds are the United States Air Force's first official air demonstration team, first taking flight in May of 1953 from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The unit adopted the name “Thunderbirds” due to strong Native American culture and folklore in the southwest region of the nation.

Last year's AirFest was originally scheduled for early June, but was delayed until Labor Day weekend and then cancelled. Troubles arose from jet demonstration and parachute teams pulling out of competitions across the nation due to the federal sequestration budget cuts to the Department of Defense.

“We were disappointed when we finally came to that realization, but we have been through a show without a headliner and it doesn't financially make sense for us,” Ott said. “We don't get a good turnout unless we truly have a headliner.”

In addition to the Thunderbirds and Golden Knights, Rockford AirFest features a wide variety of aircraft displays, family activities, concessions, and other attractions yet to be announced.

“We haven't announced all of the other acts, but we'll be rolling those out shortly,” Ott said.

This year, admission will be a bit different for AirFest. Guests will pay by the carload. Whether it be an avid aviation enthusiast riding solo or a family of eight in minivan, admission prices will be the same for any carload with all occupants legally seated and wearing seat belts.

“It will create a more hassle-free process and open it up to more families,” Ott said.

While last year refunds were made available to fans who had purchased tickets in advance for the eventually-cancelled event, disappointment was still commonplace. Still, Ott wants to reassure AirFest-goers that there is no reason to expect a repeat of last year's unfortunate circumstances.

“We don't foresee anything happening. The budgets have been approved and we have been given the all-go by the Thunderbirds,” Ott said.

Ott believes that Rockford AirFest was lucky enough to secure a headliner like the Thunderbirds due to past successes by the RFD.

“It's always difficult to secure one of the best teams, but it's due to the relationships you build over the years; creating a great event that they love to come back to,” Ott said. “They really are looking for the opportunity to showcase themselves.”

In addition to general admission, AirFest features two different VIP packages as well as preferred seating admission and RV park passes. All tickets purchased online are 20 percent off this week. For more information on different ticket packages, visit

This year, past or present military personnel will be entitled to free preferred seating for air shows if they show their military ID. Families and friends of military personnel will still have to pay extra.

“We always try to find a way to thank our military. Giving them a front row opportunity was, we found, the best gift for them this year,” Ott said.

AirFest typically features between 12 and 18 different food vendors and also offers alcohol sales. While only 40 employees are involved in AirFest, according to Ott, around 500 volunteers are needed to make the event possible. Information on how to volunteer will be made available on the event's website in the near future.

“We're excited to offer this big event,” Ott said. “To start out the summer with an event like this is great for the community and the whole region.”

No plans have been announced yet for Southern Wisconsin AirFEST to resume. The Janesville event was cancelled last year. Calls to officials were not returned although the event’s website says that there are no future plans.

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