Also be sure to check out our video playlist from the event!
Also be sure to check out our video playlist from the event!
The Melbourne Air and Space Show announced today that they have changed dates from March 17-18 to March 24-25. Organizers say that they decided to change dates in order to keep the US Air Force Thunderbirds as headliners.
The move is not entirely unexpected, as the two other airshows that originally planned to have the Thunderbirds in March also went on to change their plans.
First, Wings Over Atlanta at Dobbins ARB in Georgia canceled their March 24-25 show citing financial reasons. Then, the Luke Days airshow at Luke AFB in Arizona changed dates from March 10-11 to March 17-18 and picked up a commitment from the US Navy Blue Angels to replace the Thunderbirds as the headlining act.
This left Melbourne as the sole March appearance by the Thunderbirds, with an open weekend before and after. Now that they have slipped back to the original Wings Over Atlanta dates, they represent the first airshow of the Thunderbirds’ 2018 season.
All of this schedule churn is extremely unusual, but likely a result of the equally unusual dismissal and replacement of former Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Jason Heard after the 2017 season. The new Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, had not previously flown the demonstration and it is not surprising that he would require extra practice time to learn the profile. In fact, we speculated that this might end up happening at the time of the announcement. These schedule moves give the team an extra two weeks of training time, and by reconfirming their Melbourne appearance for March 24th, they seem confident that it will be enough.
Luke Air Force Base confirmed today that their 2018 airshow will be getting not only new dates, but a new headliner as well. The Luke Days 2018 event will now be held on March 17-18 instead of March 10-11.
The new dates were necessary in order to secure the US Navy Blue Angels as the main attraction. It will be their first time appearing at Luke since 1992, and fills a previously open weekend on their schedule. Base Public Affairs has told us that the rest of the lineup will remain the same.
The US Air Force Thunderbirds display team was scheduled to perform on the original dates, but they are currently scheduled to be in Melbourne, FL on the 17th and 18th and will not be able to perform at Luke. However, this news only adds to rumors that the team will be extending their winter training period in order to train up the new #1 pilot.
Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh took over as Thunderbird #1 in December following the surprise dismissal of the previous squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jason Heard. Although Walsh served as Thunderbird #7 for two years before being placed in charge of the squadron, he came into the role with no experience flying the demonstration. At the time, we speculated that the sudden change in lead pilot could mandate additional training time.
The move by Luke to cancel on the Thunderbirds is an extremely unusual one, and the simplest explanation is that the Thunderbirds notified Luke that their planned appearance was either in question or written off altogether. This makes even more sense since the Wings Over Atlanta airshow at Dobbins AFB in Georgia, another March show that expected to host the Thunderbirds, announced their cancelation earlier this month. The uncertainty of a jet team appearance could certainly lead to the financial concerns that they cited as the cause.
Ultimately this is all speculation at this point, as there has been no official announcement made regarding the Thunderbirds changing their schedule; everything has come from the shows themselves. The Melbourne Air and Space Show is now the only remaining March appearance for the Thunderbirds, so it will be telling whether they make any announcements regarding the team.
As always, we welcome your own thoughts and comments on this topic in our forums, where you can also see the remainder of the USAF Thunderbirds 2018 schedule as well as the 2018 airshow schedule for the US Navy Blue Angels!
UPDATE [2:47pm]: We are hearing reports that more restrictions have been imposed on the performers than previously announced. Rumor has it that acts such as the T-33 Shooting Star (“Ace Maker”) and F-86 Sabre will also be restricted to non-aerobatic maneuvers. We will update further as we learn more.
ORIGINAL POST: Thunder Over Louisville announced their airshow lineup today, and it features some significant and disappointing surprises. Much of the excitement around the show this year came from the return of the USAF Thunderbirds as the headlining act, announced in December. That excitement can be forgotten now, as show officials, just a week and a half before the event, reportedly announced that the FAA has refused to allow the Thunderbirds to perform at the show and the typical 45-minute, 6-ship aerobatic routine will be replaced with a single flyby by two Thunderbird jets. No information has been given as to why only two jets will appear instead of the normal six, but our best guess is that it will be Thunderbirds 7 and 8, the advance liasions for the team.
The FAA’s refusal to approve an aerobatic box large enough for the team to perform stems from concerns over bridge construction equipment and cranes in the area. As you can see in the map below, the show is held over the river in downtown Louisville with numerous tall bridges crossing nearby. The US Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet demo team, also scheduled to be at the show, will not be able to perform either as it requires the same size box as the Thunderbirds. It is not listed on the lineup released today. The planned USMC AV-8B Harrier demonstration will go on as scheduled as it does not include any aerobatic maneuvers.
The rest of the lineup features various aerobatic and warbird acts that will presumably be able to perform aerobatics within a smaller box. No special military flyovers were mentioned in today’s announcement, although WLKY reports that 80 aircraft (10 of them military) will participate in the show, we can count no more than 40 in the currently announced lineup. This leaves the large question of where the extra aircraft will come from or if the number is even accurate.
We have already seen comments online from furious airshow fans who made plans based on the Thunderbird and Super Hornet performances, demanding to know why the airshow did not prepare for the obstructions that surely were not a surprise. It certainly is a valid question as to why it took until this soon before the show to uncover these issues, but the organizers do deserve some benefit of the doubt. Comments from organizers appear to indicate that the show held FAA approval until Friday, when it was overturned after a review.
Here is the lineup that was announced today:
Greg Colyer – T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker”
Bill Leff – T-6 Texan
Billy Werth – Pitts S-2B
Cliff Robinson – Stearman
Flash Gordon – L-39 Albatros
USMC AV-8B Harrier Demo
Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules
Lee Leet – Super Tucano
Nick Coleman – Taylorcraft
US Army Golden Knights
We want to hear from you. Were you planning on attending Thunder Over Louisville? Does this news change your plans? Let us know on the AirshowStuff Facebook page or in the comments below!