Vucano Market - US Navy Blue Angels Towels (Officially Licensed)
Vucano Market - US Navy Blue Angels Towels (Officially Licensed)

Inside USAF Thunderbird Operations Over Colorado

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USAF Thunderbirds Blue Out Pitch

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds recently wrapped up back-to-back weekends in the state of Colorado, where they performed at the Pikes Peak Regional Airshow on September 23rd and 24th and the Grand Junction Airshow on September 30th and October 1st. During this stretch, we were able to capture a special look at some of the logistics involved in the teams travels and their procedures to ensure a perfect performance.

Wednesday

The Thunderbirds begin each show week on Wednesday at their home, Nellis AFB. Typically, Thunderbird #7 or #8 departs to the next show site to meet with airshow organizers to ensure everything is set up for the teams arrival. This includes things like transportation, lodging, temporary flight restrictions, and ramp security. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew pack up their equipment and prepare it for transport.

Thunderbirds "One Team"

Thursday

On Thursday, roughly one hour ahead of the demonstration pilots, the enlisted personnel and support officers arrive via C-17 or C-130 (“Thunderbird 14”). Once on the ground, they begin preparing for the upcoming airshow. Support crews unload the communication and maintenance trailers, spare equipment, luggage of all members traveling, and even a spare Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine.

Supervising Thunderbird 14's DepartureThunderbird 14 Support Aircraft Unloading

Following the unloading of equipment and crew, flight operations start with the overhead arrival of Thunderbirds 1-6. Once at the show site the demonstration pilots conduct a survey of the area. This provides them with an opportunity to see the show lines, the crowd lines, and find points of reference on the ground. It’s really just an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the area so that they can fly a safe and well-executed show.

Thunderbirds Arrival into the Colorado Springs Area
Photo Credit: Maj. Ryan “Neo” Bodenheimer TB2 (Left Wing)

After all aircraft, equipment, and personnel are on the ground the jets are thoroughly checked for maintenance complications by the support personal while the officers meet with members of the media for plane-side interviews to help promote the event. This is a great way for local news channels to get people interested in the airshow. While this is taking place, Thunderbird #7 or #8 are in a pre-flight briefing with a lucky member of the media who was pre-selected to go up for a media ride and represent their news station. The media ride takes place in one of the team’s two-seat F-16D’s, which also serve as backup jets for the performances. During the flight, the pilot demonstrates maneuvers from the show routine to the media representative in the back seat.

Thunderbird #7 Stare Down During Engine StartThunderbird 7 Media Flight Launch

Friday

Friday begins early in the morning, with most of the team participating in school visits, children’s hospital visits, and other such recruiting or community outreach opportunities. At the same time, aircraft specialists are at the airfield preparing the F-16’s for the afternoon practice demonstration. The Friday practice allows for the Thunderbirds to adjust for any complications or abnormalities they may have during the demonstration, whether it be timing, maneuvers, show lines, or narration. Once the afternoon rolls around it’s all hands on deck preparing for the practice show as if it were the real deal. In many ways it actually is the same, as the Thunderbirds and airshow organizers often invite distinguished guests and members of the media to the Friday show to hopefully give one last push to bring in the crowds on Saturday and Sunday.

Thundebirds Line Chief Overseeing Launch Procedures

Thunderbird #6 Site Survey LaunchThunderbird #8 "Speedy" Back In Action Providing Narration

The Friday practice in Grand Junction actually provided a unique opportunity to witness a Thunderbird mission that is rarely seen. During the performance, the demonstration pilots were shadowed by Thunderbird #7 Lt. Col Kevin “Lowen” Walsh flying a photo chase mission with a back seat photographer from the Thunderbirds Public Affairs Office. This is how the team gets amazing photos and videos of the diamond formation performing aerobatics, and it is not a common sight.

Thunderbird #7 Acting as Photo Chase following the DiamondPhoto Chase aircraft taxing out

Though the practice may have looked flawless to any member of the general public, a rigorous debrief begins immediately afterward where the officers review ground recordings, HUD tapes, and other on-board footage recorded during the show. This allows them to grade themselves on their overall performance and tells them what they can clean up, improve on, and make better for Saturday and Sunday.

Diamond Pass In Review

Saturday/Sunday

Saturday and Sunday begins, as we all know, with an early morning opening of the airshow gates, food, drinks, and hours family entertainment while the other airshow performers fly. During this time the Thunderbirds are preparing for their flight with a briefing, preflight checks, aircraft pushbacks, and communications checks. Everything funnels into the ability to provide the grand finale at the end of the day, thrilling thousands of excited fans.

Once the weekend is over the cycle resets. The team loads up to fly back to Nellis for a short bit of rest before starting again. It’s a constant fast-paced work environment that is often tasking on the team members and their families, but the rewards are extraordinary and every member of the team is always “happy to be here.”

Article and photos by Anthony Cornelius

Dedicated Crew Chief for Thunderbird #3 Launching Out His Pilot

Blue Angels Rock Oshkosh, Discuss Super Hornet Transition Plans

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Popular Posts | 1

Blue Angels Fly at Oshkosh for the First Time

Oshkosh always has an award winning lineup and many highlights through the week. This year – the show was home to another first.

For the first time ever, the United States Navy Blue Angels flew a full demonstration in the skies over Oshkosh.

The team arrived Wednesday afternoon during the afternoon airshow, announcing their presence with a perfectly-timed (of course) flyby at the end of the national anthem. Only five jets arrived initially, with #3 arriving several hours later and #7 coming in separately after that.

On Thursday, the diamond pilots performed their circle and arrival maneuvers, where they pick out landmarks to use as they fly. They were supposed to do this during the daily airshow, but the aircraft had a small mishap while taxiing out in the interest of safety they canceled. They were able to reschedule for 8pm, after the airport is normally closed. Two jets took off and completed the necessary maneuvers just in time. Fans who stayed noted the rare chance to see the Blues jets with afterburner glow and lights on. The solo pilots performed their circle and arrival flight on Friday morning.

Noticeably absent from the show was the Blue Angels’ famous blue and gold C-130 Hercules, Fat Albert. In the wake of the crash of a USMC C-130T that killed 16 servicemembers, the USMC ordered a safety stand down of all C-130Ts, including Fat Albert. Bert was not only unable to perform, she never even made it to Oshkosh. Instead, the team relied on a Navy C-40 Clipper, the military version of the Boeing 737-700C, to bring in their maintenance crew and some equipment.

US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017

The Blue Angels also participated in a popular Theater in the Woods event on Friday, July 28th. During this appearance, they spoke about being on the team and took questions from the audience. A couple of the questions were particularly interesting; when asked about female Blue Angel pilots in the future, Blue Angel #1 revealed that there have been no female F/A-18 applicants for the past two recruitment cycles. The team has never had a female fly as a Hornet demonstration pilot.

US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017

The transition to the Super Hornet was also discussed. Currently, the team is in their 30th year of flying the Boeing F/A-18 Legacy Hornet. Despite internet rumors of a switch to the Super Hornet in September of this year or at the beginning of the 2018 season, the team plans to continue flying their Hornets for now. In fact, they are currently inducting three “new” Hornets into the squadron.

The target date for transitioning to the Super Hornet is not until 2019, and it was quickly pointed out that it could slip beyond that. There are several Super Hornets already set aside for the team, but they will need to be modified and tested before the pilots can begin training. One step in the right direction was mentioned; apparently a couple (now previous) Blue Angel pilots have already flown the current flight demonstration profile in the Super Hornet simulator and the results seemed positive. Hang in there Rhino fans!

Didn’t get a chance to see the Blue Angels at Oshkosh in person? No worries! We’ve got you covered with a video of their entire Friday performance!

Fat Albert Grounded As Part Of C-130T Safety Stand Down, Not Expected To Appear In Oshkosh

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US Navy Blue Angels - C-130 Hercules Fat Albert

Fat Albert is grounded once again. All KC-130T Hercules aircraft, used by the Marine Corps, have been grounded as a precaution after a KC-130 crashed earlier this month in Louisiana, killing 16. This includes Fat Albert, the support aircraft of the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team that is performing at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this weekend. Unfortunately she is not expected to fly in to Oshkosh or perform in the show. The team’s F/A-18 Hornets will still perform as planned.

Bert actually remains on the ground in Idaho Falls, ID, where the team performed last weekend. A US Navy C-40 Clipper (737) flew in to Oshkosh to deliver the team’s support staff and some equipment. There is no word on how long the stand down will last, but it indicates that there are concerns stemming from the crash that require further analysis. Fat Albert returned to airshows from a nearly year-long overhaul earlier this month.

EAA initially announced (and later reaffirmed) that all C-130s in the US military were grounded, but this was later proven to be false. Although we updated our posts as more information became available, we apologize for any confusion due to what should have been a reliable source.

Blue Angels Announce 2018 Officers, Including New Demo Pilots

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US Navy Blue Angels

Two new F/A-18 Hornet demonstration pilots, a C-130 demonstration pilot, a maintenance officer, and a public affairs officer will be joining the elite Blue Angels team in 2018. These new officers will fill the shoes of the existing team members who are wrapping up their tour of duty when the 2017 airshow season ends. Also joining the Blue Angels is 2018 is a new commanding officer, Cmdr. Eric Doyle. He will take over for Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi.

Here’s some information on all the new team members:

F/A-18 Hornet Demonstration Pilots:
Marine Maj. Jeffrey Mullins, 30, of Memphis, Tennessee, is an F/A-18 Hornet pilot currently assigned to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 31. He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2006.

Navy Lt. Andre Webb, 31, of Lawton, Oklahoma, is an F/A-18 Hornet pilot and 2008 US Naval Academy graduate currently assigned to the “Golden Eagles” of Training Squadron (VT) 22 based in Kingsville, TX.

Maj.-MullinsLt. Webb

C-130 Demonstration Pilot:
Marine Capt. Beau Mabery, 28, of Lompoc, California, is a C-130 Hercules pilot currently assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2011.

Maintenance Officer:
Navy Lt. Garrett Hopkins, 38, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a maintenance officer currently assigned to Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment (SFWPD) Fallon. He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2009.

Public Affairs Officer:
Navy Lt. David Gardner, 36, of Warrensburg, Missouri, is a public affairs officer currently assigned to the USS Makin Island (LHD 8). He graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 2003.

Capt.-MaberyLt.-Hopkins

Lt.-Gardner

All of the officers were recommended by Rear Adm. James Bynum, chief of Naval Air Training and approved by Commander of Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker. Join us in welcoming them to the team and wishing them the best for a safe 2018 season!

USAF Thunderbirds Soar Over Paris, Normandy Beach, And More In Preparation For Bastille Day Flyover

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USAF Thunderbirds Over Paris, France - July 2017
Photos Courtesy of the USAF Thunderbirds

Members of the United States Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds demonstration team are in Europe this week, preparing for their upcoming shows in France and England. The team is set to fly over the city of Paris, France on July 14 in celebration of Bastille Day, France’s La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration) commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789.

The team flew a practice sortie over the city as well as the beaches at Normandy and Mont Saint-Michel. Check out these incredible photos!

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Mont. Saint-Michel

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Pointe Du HocUSAF Thunderbirds Over France - Normandy Beach

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Louvre

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Normandy Beach

This year, the traditional flyover of the parade through Paris will feature the Patrouille de France and a number of other aircraft from the French Air Force’s inventory, to include Dassault Mirage 2000s and Rafales. Following them will be the USAF Thunderbirds and a pair of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors. Much like the Patrouille de France’s American Tour earlier this year, the inclusion of the Thunderbirds in these festivities marks the 100th year since the United State’s entry into the First World War, signifying solidarity between the French and American forces.

Following their Bastille Day flyover, the team will be performing at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England July 14-16. Afterwards, they will depart Europe back for the US to fly at Flight Over the Falls in Great Falls, Montana on July 22-23.

To see where you can catch the USAF Thunderbirds this year, check out our post with their 2017 schedule!

USAF Thunderbirds Announce New Pilots, Officers For 2018 Season

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USAF Thunderbirds Announce New Officers for 2018 Show Season
Air Combat Command and the Thunderbirds have announced new pilots who will be joining the team for the 2018 demonstration season. The left wing, slot and opposing solo positions will have new pilots when the team takes to the skies in 2018.

Flying Thunderbird #2 will be Capt. William Graeff. Currently assigned to the 88th Fighter Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Graeff replaces Maj. Ryan Bodenheimer on the Left Wing of the Diamond formation.

The Slot position will be filled by Capt. Stephen Del Bango of the 58th Fighter Squadron, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Capt Del Bagno’s selection is unique, as he is the first F-35 pilot to be selected to serve on the team. He replaces Maj. Nick Krajicek.

Capt. Matthew Kimmel of the 79th Fighter Squadron, stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina will be the new Opposing Solo, #6 for the team. Maj. White Collins, the current Opposing Solo for the 2017 show season will move to the Lead Solo position (#5), replacing Maj. Alex Turner.

Other new officers on the 2018 team include:

Thunderbird #7 – Maj Eric Gorney. He will serve as the squadron’s operations officer.
Thunderbird #10- Capt Lauren Venturini. She will serve as the squadron’s maintenance officer.
Thunderbird #12- Maj. Raymond Geoffroy. He will serve as the squadron’s public affairs officer.

There are twelve officer positions with the USAF Thunderbirds team, and members serve two-year tours of duty. In 2018, Thunderbird # 1, 3, 6, 8, and 9 will be replaced.

Fat Albert Returns To Airshows!

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams | 3

US Navy Blue Angels C-130 Hercules Fat Albert

Fat Albert, the Blue Angels C-130 Hercules transport will return to the skies this week for the first airshow demonstration since her maintenance overhaul. Bert will fly in the annual Pensacola Beach Airshow, slated for June 8th. Practice day is Friday, June 7th.

Late last summer, Fat Albert was grounded for the end of the airshow season, missing the popular shows at NAS Oceana, MCAS Miramar, and Fleet Week in San Francisco. During the overhaul, Bert underwent a complete inspection and received a new paint job!

Maj. Mark Hamilton, Maj. Mark Montgomery and Maj. Kyle Maschner will be the pilots of Fat Albert for the 2017 airshow season. Fat Albert is always flown by an all Marine crew.

Don’t remember the Fat Albert routine? We’ve got you covered! Check out this video of a full Fat Albert demonstration at the 2016 Lynchburg Airshow in Lynchburg, VA.

Once you’ve watched that, watch from INSIDE Fat Albert!

Canadian Snowbirds Debut Special “Canada 150” Paint Scheme

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RCAF Snowbirds CT-114 Tutor Canada 150 Paint Scheme
Photo courtesy of RCAF. Photo by Ken Lin.

The Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds demonstration team are upping the festivities for the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation with a special paint scheme of their own. The new paint on their Canadair CT-114 Tutor features the Canada 150 logo on the nose and wings with the underside of the aircraft featuring 150 crimson maple leaves mixed with the traditional red/white/blue colors of the Snowbirds scheme. Yet again, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have outdone themselves with a stunning display of patriotism and creativity.

RCAF Snowbirds CT-114 Tutor Canada 150 Paint Scheme
Photo courtesy of RCAF. Photo by Ken Lin.

The first public appearance of the new paint scheme will be Saturday July 1, as the Snowbirds join the similarly beautiful CF-18 Hornet demonstration jet and multiple other aircraft for a mass flyover of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario as part of the Canada Day festivities. Should you miss that, the Snowbirds are next expected to fly at the Shoal Lake Airshow in Shoal Lake, Manitoba on July 12, followed shortly by the Lethbridge International Airshow in Lethbridge, Alberta.

We look forward to seeing this beautiful aircraft and commemoration on tour throughout the remaining show season!

Thunderbirds Return To Flying, Airshows After Dayton Landing Incident

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Cleveland National Airshow - USAF Thunderbirds

The US Air Force Thunderbirds announced today that they are returning to flying operations this week, and it sounds like they have every intention of performing as scheduled this weekend in Traverse City, MI. The remaining aircraft departed Dayton today to return to their home base of Nellis AFB, and they will fly a practice show there tomorrow. After Traverse City, the team has a weekend off followed by a trip to the UK where they will perform at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.

The team canceled their scheduled performances at the 2017 Vectren Dayton Airshow this past weekend after one of their two-seat F-16Ds flipped over onto its back next to the runway on Friday. The pilot, Thunderbird #8 Capt. Erik Gonsalves and passenger Technical Sgt. Kenneth Cordova were trapped in the overturned cockpit for more than an hour as emergency crews carefully attempted to extract them without triggering the powerful ejection seats.

The jet was returning from a familiarization flight nearby when the weather deteriorated. Reportedly, a gust of wind caught the aircraft after it was on the ground and flipped it onto its back in the muddy grass. The incident is still under investigation.

Once freed, both of the crew were taken to a nearby hospital in good condition. Cordova was released but Gonsalves remains in the hospital with reported cuts to his legs. He is expected to fully recover.

We are glad to hear that both of the Thunderbird team members are safe, and that the team will not observe a lengthy stand down. They must feel that the incident was a freak occurrence and that it is safe to continue performing.

USAF Thunderbird F-16 Involved In Mishap At 2017 Dayton Air Show

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USAF Thunderbirds 7 and 8 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010

AirshowStuff has learned that an F-16 belonging to the USAF Thunderbirds has been involved in an incident at the Dayton Air Show in Dayton, OH.

According to eyewitnesses, the incident occurred after the F-16 landed and was taxiing. The plane went off the runway and is currently in the grass. Law enforcement in the Dayton area are confirming than a Thunderbird jet is “on its top.”

This picture, posted by Dayton Daily News shows emergency crews responding to the incident scene.

The pilot of the jet at the time was Thunderbird #8, Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves. Tech Sargent Kenneth Cordova was the backseater. The mission was on a familiarization flight for Tech Sargent Cordova.

Both occupants of the plane were transported to the hospital. Thunderbird #1 says that injuries are non-life threatening. Tech Sargent Cordova had no visible injuries and is doing “just fine.” Thunderbird #8 had lacerations and injuries to his leg but is in stable to good condition and doing well.

There was heavy rain and wind in the area at the time of the incident. We’ll post more details on our forums as they become available.

The plane took off around 10:30 am this morning. Weather at the time met the criteria for the flight. He flew an instrument procedure approach to recover to the base. Mishap happened after landing on Runway 6L.

An accident safety board will investigate and the results will be made public at a later time. The Thunderbirds will NOT perform on Saturday at the Dayton Airshow. Sunday’s performance is to be determined.


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