It might seem like a dichotomy, crafting a soundtrack for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds' performance, as their F-16 Fighting Falcons are some of the loudest machines ever designed.
Yet the soundtrack, much like the music for any artistic performance, aims to evoke various emotions in the audience — from patriotism to the exuberance, freedom and joy of flying — as the six demonstration pilots pull off difficult maneuvers at the Bethpage Air Show this Memorial Day weekend.
Their playlist, a “Walk on the Wild Side,” as Lou Reed might have put it, injects a fun element — though it can briefly turn somber or sorrowful, when they honor fallen warriors, for instance.
The pilots, however, cannot hear the music.
Maj. Whit Collins, flying the No. 4 jet in the diamond formation, explained he instead listened to the boss, the flight commander, on one radio channel, and at a lower volume, the two solo pilots on a second channel.
Still, said Maj. Jason Markzon, the advance pilot who created the soundtrack and narrated the show, the pilots “basically vote on the song.” He reviewed the playlist after becoming the No. 8 pilot last year, “and tried to see if I could tweak it a little bit.”
As errors could be grievous, military demonstration pilots intently analyze videos of their flights.
Those videos also help Markzon judge if a new song fits the aerobatics.
Winners are almost all “high-energy,” he said.
That musical style also suits the audience.
“When people are seeing jets fly by fast and loud, they kind of want some more upbeat and faster paced songs,” he said.
“There was one song, I think it was — sort of had a country twist to it, country rock ‘n roll, and it just didn’t kind of go well with the maneuver,” he said. The team, Markzon said, “thought it was sort of low energy.”
The Thunderbirds must master three different levels — high, low and flat — depending on whether they are flying in clear or cloudy skies. The music must be modified along with the aerobatics.
New songs selected for the Thunderbirds 2019 air show include “Just a Girl” by No Doubt, which Capt. Michelle Curran, the opposing solo pilot in the No. 6 jet, felt was “just perfect for vertical rolls,” Markzon said.
For the alpha pass, flown at what is called a high angle of attack, “No Diggity” by Blackstreet, will play.
“It’s got a nice beat, kind of slow, like 'Low Rider,' " he said. The latter, by War, is one of the songs the team has performed to a number of times; it appears on the 2010 unofficial playlist, for example.
For the knife edge pass, “The Natural” by Imagine Dragons was chosen.
That group’s “Thunder” is almost the team’s theme song.
When the pilots pay tribute to a local service member who gave their life for their country, Markzon said a somewhat slower song will play: “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters.
Other favorites listed on the 2010 playlist and more recent ones are:
“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, for the diamond cloverloop opener; “The Natural,” by Randy Newman during the pilot introductions; “Living on the Edge” by Aerosmith, for the knife edge pass; “This is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line for the diamond roll; “Free” by Zac Brown Band during the diamond pass; “Remember the Name,” by Fort Minor for the calypso pass; “Beautiful Day” by U2 or Matt Darey for the trail to diamond; “God Bless America,” sung by Celine Dion, during the high bomb burst; and “America the Beautiful,” sung by Ray Charles for the five card loop.
For their finale, the team has performed to “Glory” by James Horner.