BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The Thunderbirds have arrived in Battle Creek for the Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival.

Lt. Col. Justin Elliott leads the team and will be performing for the crowds.

“I’m the commander of the squadron. That includes all 135 people on the team and I’m also the leader of the demonstration and so I’ll fly the number one jet in the demo,” Elliott said.

The F-16 planes arrived Thursday night at Battle Creek Executive Airport, practicing some maneuvers before they landed.

“In our closest passes we are 18 inches apart and that’s from the top, the canopy of the wingmen, underneath my wing tips, so our wing tips will actually overlap by a good 10 feet,” Elliott said.

Their mission is greater than just putting on a great show over the Fourth of July weekend.

“If you look at a nation that has been a bit divided by the pandemic, nothing is going to unite people more than a beacon of excellence. Something we can all rally around,” Elliott said. 

While the Thunderbird pilots often get all the credit, they couldn’t get off the ground without the hardworking crew members like Tech. Sgt. Xavier Knapp, who is from Kalamazoo.

“I am the number one crew chief for the Thunderbirds, so I work on the commander leader’s jet,” Knapp said. “Nose to tail we’re in charge of the entire aircraft. Forms, documentation, scheduled, unscheduled maintenance, servicing anything that might come up with the aircraft.”

He used to attend the show when he was a kid and watched the Thunderbirds dazzle the sky.

“Grew up here. Came to the Battle Creek airshow all the time growing up every other year when the Thunderbirds would show up and so this one is really special for me because I can finally be back and be a part of that magic that I saw when I was growing up,” Knapp said. 

The Thunderbirds were scheduled for 2020 but the air show was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Bretten Bailey, a spokesperson for the show, says they were delighted to hear they were able to return this year.

“We hope that we can have them again in 2024 but it’s a big deal to always have them because they’re the premiere demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force,” Bailey said.

The signature planes may bring in the crowds but there is plenty for people to do throughout the weekend.  

“We’ll have fireworks to end the nights Saturday and Monday and then we’ll end with a balloon illum on Sunday and our air show is going to be just action packed,” Bailey said.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the Field of Flight website.