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

Inside USAF Thunderbird Operations Over Colorado

posted in: Jet Teams | 1

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

Colorado Highway Named In Honor Of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, Blue Angel #6

posted in: Miscellaneous | 0
Colorado Highway Renamed Jeff Kuss Memorial Highway
Courtesy: CDOT/Navy

A new sign now stands as an honor to fallen Blue Angel #6. Colorado Highway 3 just outside of Durango has been renamed as the Capt. Jeff Kuss Memorial Highway in honor of the Marine pilot. The announcement comes nearly a year after the tragic accident in Smyrna, TN in which Kuss lost his life.

The resolution, brought forward by Rep. Barbara McLachlan who represents the district of Durango where Kuss resided, was formally read before the chambers of the Legislature of Colorado and passed in both the House and Senate with all members joining as co-sponsors. McLachlan said that she sees the resolution as “a tribute to Kuss, his family, and veterans across the state.”

Five members of Kuss’ family who live in Colorado were present in the House of Legislature for the announcement of the resolution.

The town of Smyrna, TN, where the accident occurred is also working to honor Kuss by building a memorial. They have raised half of the expected $1 million cost of the memorial but help is needed to complete the project. Click here for more information on how you can help.

Air Force Announces Report Findings On 2016 Thunderbird #6 Crash – Pilot Cleared

posted in: Jet Teams | 0

US Air Force Thunderbirds

The US Air Force says that the crash of Thunderbird #6 into a Colorado field earlier this year was caused by a throttle malfunction. The finding was part of the Accident Investigation Board report on the incident, announced today by Air Combat Command. The crash occurred shortly after a flyby of the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, CO on June 2nd.

Although speculation has been rampant that the F-16 Fighting Falcon ran out of fuel, ACC has stated that hundreds of pounds of fuel were removed from the wreckage. Instead, the investigation found that an issue with the throttle incorrectly caused the pilot, Major Alex Turner, to shut the engine off rather than setting it to idle power as intended. He was unable to restart the engine due to his low altitude and ejected safely after steering toward an empty field.

According to ACC, “after beginning landing procedures, the pilot inadvertently rotated the throttle, placing it into an engine cut-off position. Normally, this full rotation cannot occur unless a throttle trigger is affirmatively actuated or pressed. However, the throttle trigger was “stuck” in the “pressed” position. The accident investigation board observed debris accumulation in the throttle trigger, combined with wear on the trigger assembly.

Once the engine cut-off occurred, the aircraft immediately lost thrust. The pilot attempted engine restart procedures, but restart was impossible at the low altitude of the aircraft. The pilot safely delayed his ejection until he navigated the aircraft to a grass field.

The aircraft, valued at approximately $29 million, was destroyed. There was no known damage to civilian property. At the time of the accident, the pilot was a current and qualified air demonstration pilot, with more than 1,200 hours flying the F-16 and a total flight time of 1,447 hours. He resumed demonstrations with the team.”

The Thunderbirds were grounded for a little over two weeks following the crash. They returned to aerial demonstrations at the airshow in Ocean City, MD and successfully completed the remainder of their 2016 show season.

This crash was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Blue Angel #6, Marine Captain Jeff Kuss, was killed when his aircraft crashed the same afternoon in Smyrna, TN. That crash was a separate and unrelated accident, and a report on it was released in September.

USAF Thunderbird Ejects From Aircraft After Air Force Academy Flyover

posted in: Jet Teams | 13

USAF Thunderbirds - Opposing Pass

View updated article on this incident: Thunderbird 6 Uninjured After Ejecting Following Air Force Academy Flyover, Team To Observe Safety Stand Down.

One of the USAF Thunderbirds is reportedly uninjured after ejecting today in Colorado. Photos show the aircraft came to rest in a field, largely intact. The team was performing a flyover at the United States Air Force Academy graduation today. We are working on getting more information.

USAF Thunderbird Crash - Air Force Academy
Source: KKTV

Blue Angels Add Sacramento, Drop Aurora On 2016 Schedule

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Schedules | 0

US Navy Blue Angels

There has been a slight change to the US Navy Blue Angels’ 2016 schedule today. The October 1-2 weekend, which had been held by the Rocky Mountain Airshow in Aurora, CO, has been taken over by the California Capitol Airshow in Sacramento, CA. The Aurora show has been shown on the ICAS calendar as canceled for a little while now, so the move is not surprising. The website for the Sacramento show already includes the information, while the website for the Aurora show is not currently reachable and the Facebook page for the show has not been updated since December.