The man behind the curtain: Thompson leads charge with air show planning

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Courtney Dotson-Essett
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

For those who are looking forward to being spectators at the 2019 Grissom Air and Space Expo, Sept. 7-8 can’t come soon enough.

For those who are planning what is easily one of the biggest events to come to Grissom in more than 16 years, it might seem as though the calendar is hurtling toward that weekend.

As director of the Grissom Air and Space Expo, Lt. Col. Brian Thompson, 434th Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation, is keenly aware of the date and remains busy making sure the event will run as smoothly as possible.

Thompson and his team of planners have been at work since Dec. 2017 to put together a successful show.

“When you first think of an air show, you of think of planes flying and that’s kind of the small part of it,” he said. “The big part of it is managing 90,000 people and how they’ll get fed, where they’ll get water and setting up security.

“The flying part is kind of the easy part. It’s more about event planning and how to make a small city come together,” he added.

 The 19-year Air Force veteran serves as the umbrella over all facets of the event.  It’s a role change from his last air show at Grissom in 2003, when he was one of the tanker pilots that flew in the show’s opening.

Thompson has spent his entire career at the 434th Air Refueling Wing in a proud progression that has seen him ascend from the first lieutenant who did that flyover to today’s program director.

He recognizes some things have changed both historically and logistically but those changes will nonetheless, be beneficial.

“I think US 31 is busier than it was now that it’s a four-lane highway,” he said.

While he notes that the show, along with drivers who routinely travel that road will increase traffic, it may also help increase attendees.

An estimated 45,000 people per day are expected to attend this year’s air show.

 He and his team have worked hard to make sure that they’re prepared to give visitors, no matter how many there will be, an experience they’ll be talking about long after they leave Grissom.

“We’ll have something for everyone from ages two to 100. We have everyone covered,” Thompson said.

The 2019 Grissom Air and Space Expo will feature demonstrations by the Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army aerial demonstration team, The Golden Knights, along with other military and civilian acts.

Aircraft displays will include the B-52 Stratofortress, a World War II P-51 Mustang, and a civilian Zivko Edge 540.

For more information about the airshow, visit and stay connected with the 434th ARW on Facebook and Twitter for continued updates.