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GARY | The Gary Air Show is Saturday and Sunday, but the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were putting on an early show Thursday high above the region as they went though practice runs with their F-16s in preparation for the weekend event.

One of them is Capt. Alexander Goldfein, the right wing pilot of the No. 3 jet. After landing at Gary Airport with his fellow pilots following a "site scan" of Marquette Park, where the air show takes place, Goldfein said he's excited for the show.

"I think it's a lot of fun," he said. "I enjoy the Air Force, I enjoy the mission and I like the people. This is a unique opportunity to go out there and share that mission and vision and get people excited. It's neat to know how many people are down there and it's hard not to enjoy having people light up to see the Thunderbirds fly through."

Goldfein, 32, is enjoying his first season with the Thunderbirds although like most of the group's pilots, he has 10 years flying experience. Thunderbird pilots fly for two seasons in the air show.

"Most of us are combat fighter pilots and we'll go back to what we flew before," Goldfein said. "For me it's the F-15C most likely."

Goldfein said the Thunderbirds fly "very specific" formations. And it takes "tons" of practice. Their training season goes from November to March.

"We will practice twice a day, five days a week to get the show to what it is," he said. "There's a lot of repetition. We fly six days a week as it is."

Goldfein said weather definitely matters during an air show.

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"It's the one thing we can't do much about," he said. "What we do to keep things safe is we have a high show, a low show and a flat show. The high show is the loops, the lower show the rolls. The flat show mainly just passes. We'll do that as the clouds come down. The goal is to go as high a high show as possible. But we'll change that as required."

There wouldn't be any show if not for the Thunderbirds dedicated crew chiefs who oversee the maintenance. For Goldfein's F-16, it's Staff Sgt. Ariel Audet, 24.

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"It's basically her jet," Goldfein said.

Audet has been in the Air Force for four years, the Thunderbirds for one.

"I like getting my hands dirty and seeing my work fly," she said.  

The air show is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with Marquette Park opening at 9 a.m. both days.

Joining the Thunderbirds are the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and civilian acts such as Aerostars and AeroDynamix who perform precision acts.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.