USAF Thunderbirds Cancel Appearance At Wings Over Columbus 2018

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Schedules | 1

USAF Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcon

The USAF Thunderbirds have canceled their planned appearance at the 2018 Wings Over Columbus airshow at Columbus AFB in Mississippi. The move was announced in a video update by Thunderbird #1 following the death of Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, in a crash during practice last week. The team had previously announced they were skipping their performances at the March ARB airshow this past weekend as well as Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL next weekend.

It is important to note that while the Thunderbird performances have been canceled, the airshows themselves will be held as originally scheduled. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command has been working to add single-ship demonstrations to affected shows; Sun ‘n Fun recently announced that the F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team (Viper Demo) will perform there to fill in for the Thunderbirds.

We have updated our 2018 USAF Thunderbirds schedule to reflect the confirmed cancellations, but we expect more appearances to be canceled as part of a safety stand down after the accident. Stay tuned to AirshowStuff for future updates.

USAF Thunderbirds Announce New Commanding Officer For 2018 Season

posted in: Jet Teams | 0

US Air Force Thunderbirds

The US Air Force Thunderbirds have a new commanding officer! The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, has selected Lt. Col. Kevin “Lowen” Walsh to lead the team in 2018. Lt. Col. Walsh was already serving as the interim CO of the famed demonstration squadron following the unexpected dismissal of the previous team leader, Lt. Col. Jason Heard late last month.

USAF Thunderbirds - Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh

Walsh served as Thunderbird #7, the team’s Operations Officer, during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and was due to leave the team this winter as his tour concluded. He will now take over the second year of Lt. Col. Heard’s planned two year tour before a new “Boss” is selected in 2019.

We welcome Lt. Col. Walsh (back) to the team and look forward to seeing him fly in 2018!

Here is the full text of the Air Force press release:

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, has officially selected the officer who will lead the United States Air Force Thunderbirds for the 2018 demonstration season.

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh will become Thunderbird No. 1, the squadron’s commander and lead pilot. As the twofold duty title implies, his responsibilities will include commanding a force of more than 130 enlisted personnel and 11 commissioned officers assigned to the Thunderbirds, along with leading all demonstration flights.

Walsh, a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., just completed his second season with the team as Thunderbird No. 7, the squadron’s Operations Officer.

“Kevin’s extensive flying experience and rapport within the Thunderbirds makes him a perfect fit to command the team,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander. “I have full faith he will lead the team through a successful 2018 show season.”

Walsh is a graduate of the USAF Weapons School and has logged over 2,600 hours of flight time with more than 500 hours of combat pilot experience.

2018 will mark the Thunderbirds’ 65th season as the Air Force’s premier jet demonstration team, entrusted with the vital mission to recruit, retain and inspire across the nation while representing the outstanding men and women serving in the United States Air Force around the world.

Thunderbird #1 Relieved Of Command After Loss Of Confidence

posted in: Jet Teams | 2

USAF Thunderbirds in Formation

Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Jason Heard, was relieved of command earlier this month. The stunning news was announced today by The US Air Force’s Air Combat Command. Heard had served as the commander and flight leader of the famous USAF Thunderbirds demonstration team since taking over the role around one year ago. He lead the team’s performances at each of their 2017 appearances across North America and Europe and was due for one more season with the team.

The reasoning behind the move is quite eye-opening. According to the press release, Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt “Lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style”. Leavitt is the 57th wing commander and the one who relieved Heard. “This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team. I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season,” Leavitt said.

Thunderbird #1 Lt. Col. Jason Heard

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, the Thunderbird’s 2016-2017 Operations Officer, has temporarily assumed responsibility of the team until a new commander is selected.

The timing of the move is interesting. The decision was made effective November 20th, just a week after the team concluded their 2017 airshow season with the home town Aviation Nation airshow at Nellis AFB, but it was not announced until today.

Representatives from the team are currently preparing for the annual International Council of Airshows convention next week, where the team’s schedule release is always a main event. It remains to be seen how the change in leadership might alter the winter training schedule and planned 2018 performances.

Stay tuned to AirshowStuff as we cover not only the fallout from this story, but the planned release of the jet team schedules next week!

Here is the full text of the Air Force’s press release on the matter:

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander, relieved Lt. Col. Jason Heard of command of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron upon the completion of the 2017 season effective Nov. 20, 2017.

While Heard led the team through a highly successful show season, Leavitt lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style.

Leavitt determined that new leadership was necessary to ensure the highest levels of pride, precision and professionalism within the team.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team. I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season,” Leavitt said.

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, the Thunderbird’s 2016-2017 Operations Officer, has temporarily assumed responsibility of the team until a new commander is selected.

The Thunderbirds are preparing for the 2018 season, training their new pilots, and look forward to inspiring crowds around the country.

Welcome, Boss! New Commander Flies First Blue Angels Training Mission

posted in: Jet Teams | 1

New Boss of the Blue Angels Flies for the 1st Time

Earlier this year, the US Navy Blue Angels announced a new “Boss”had been selected to lead the famous flight demonstration team. Now, he is taking the skies for the first time in a Blue Angels jet!

Commander Eric “Popeye” Doyle will lead the demonstration team during their 2018 and 2019 show seasons. A graduate of Texas A&M, Cmdr. Doyle previously commanded VFA-113 “Stingers”. He assumed command of the squadron from outgoing Boss Capt. Ryan Bernacchi at a change of command ceremony at the National Naval Aviation Museumin Pensacola on November 12th, following the team’s final performance of the season the day before.

New Boss of the Blue Angels Flies for the 1st Time

On November 15th, Cmdr. Doyle strapped into the famous blue and gold hornet and lead a short winter training flight in the skies over Pensacola.

In January, the entire Blue Angels team will deploy to their winter training base of El Centro, CA for the traditional winter training period. The Blues will kickoff the 2018 show season March 10th at the NAF El Centro Airshow.

US Navy Blue Angels Announce Commanding Officer For 2018-2019 Seasons

posted in: Jet Teams | 1

US Navy Blue Angels - F/A-18 Hornet

Meet the next Boss! The US Navy Blue Angels announced this week that Commander Eric “Popeye” Doyle has been selected to lead the team for the 2018 and 2019 airshow seasons. He will take over the reigns from the current Blue Angel #1, Commander Ryan Bernacchi, at a change of command ceremony in November.

Cmdr. Doyle was one of six finalists for the position, and was introduced at a press conference in Pensacola on Tuesday. He is originally from League City, TX and is a graduate of Texas A&M. Popeye is currently stationed at NAS Lemoore in California where he commands VFA-113 “Stingers”, a squadron of F/A-18E Super Hornets. He will serve a two-year tour as Flight Leader and Commanding Officer of the legendary squadron before returning to the fleet.

“This was a childhood dream come true,” Doyle was quoted as saying. “My motivation to become a pilot came from watching the Blue Angels.”

Welcome to the team, Popeye!