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.
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.
Here is the preliminary 2019 airshow schedule for the US Air Force Thunderbirds! This schedule has been released on a preliminary basis only, and will likely see notable changes. Please make sure to check back with us in December of 2018 when an updated 2019 schedule is released!
Preliminary 2019 Appearance Schedule – US Air Force Thunderbirds
March 23-24: Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona – Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
March 30-31: Gulf Coast Salute Air Show – Tyndall AFB, FL
April 6-7: Heart of Texas Air Show – Waco, TX
April 13-14: Salute to the Military Air Show – Biloxi, MS
April 27-28: Wings over Wayne Open House – Seymour Johnson AFB, NC
May 4-5: Wings over Myrtle Beach – Myrtle Beach, SC
May 11-12: JB Andrews Air Show – JB Andrews, MD
May 18: Kirtland AFB Air Show – Kirtland AFB, NM
May 22: USAFA Graduation Flyover – Colorado Springs, CO
May 25-26: Jones Beach Air Show – Jones Beach, NY
June 1-2: Defenders of Freedom Air Show – Offutt AFB, NE
June 15-16: Minnesota Air Spectacular – Mankato, MN
June 22-23: Dayton Air Show – Dayton, OH
June 29-30: Fort Wayne Air Show – Fort Wayne, IN
July 6-7: Rhode Island Air Show – North Kingstown, RI
July 13-14: Open
July 20-21: Fargo Air Show – Fargo, ND
July 24: Cheyenne Frontier Days – Cheyenne, WY
July 27-28: Milwaukee Air and Water Show – Milwaukee, WI
August 10-11: Abbotsford International Air Show – Abbotsford, BC
August 17-18: Sioux Falls Air Show – Sioux Falls, SD
August 21: Atlantic City Air Show – Atlantic City, NJ
August 24-25: Rochester International Airshow – Rochester, NY
August 31-September 2: Cleveland National Air Show – Cleveland, OH
September 7-8: Grissom Air Reserve Base Air Show – Grissom ARB, IN
September 14-15: National Championship Air Races – Reno, NV
September 21-22: Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show – NAS Oceana, VA
September 28-29: Robins AFB Air Show – Robins AFB, GA
October 5-6: Puerto Rico International Air Show – San Juan, PR
October 12-13: Atlanta Air Show – Hampton, GA
October 19-20: Wings over Houston Air Show – Houston, TX
October 26-27: Sheppard AFB Air Show – Sheppard AFB, TX
November 2-3: Florida International Air Show – Punta Gorda, FL
November 9-10: Aviation Nation – Nellis AFB, NV
Here is the 2018 airshow schedule for the US Air Force Thunderbirds! Will you see them in 2018? Let us know! Post in the AirshowStuff Forums or on the AirshowStuff Facebook page and make sure you share pictures after the show!
Schedules often change during the year – for the latest updates please be sure to check our forums!
2018 Appearance Schedule – US Air Force Thunderbirds
March 10-11: Luke AFB Air Show – Luke AFB, AZ
March 17-18: Melbourne Air & Space Show – Melbourne, FL
March 24-25: Wings Over Atlanta – Dobbins ARB, GA
April 7-8: March Field Air & Space Expo – March ARB, CA
April 14-15: Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In & Expo – Lakeland, FL
April 21-22: Wings Over Columbus – Columbus AFB, MS
April 28: Charleston Air Expo – JB Charleston, SC
May 5-6: Fort Lauderdale Air Show – Fort Lauderdale, FL
May 12-13: Laughlin AFB Open House – Laughlin AFB, TX
May 19-20: AirPower Over Hampton Roads – Langley AFB, VA
May 23: U.S. Air Force Academy Graduation – Colorado Springs, CO
May 26-27: Cannon AFB Air Show – Cannon AFB, NM
June 2-3: Gunfighter Skies Air Show – Mountain Home AFB, ID
June 9-10: Thunder Of Niagara Airshow – Niagara Falls, NY
June 16-17: OC Air Show – Ocean City, MD
June 23-24: The Utah Air Show – Hill AFB, UT
June 30-July 1: Arctic Thunder Air Show – Elmendorf AFB, AK
July 7-8: Duluth Air and Aviation Expo – Duluth, MN
July 14-15: The Great New England Air Show – Westover ARB, MA
July 21-22: Milwaukee Air & Water Show – Milwaukee, WI
July 25: Cheyenne Frontier Days – Cheyenne, WY
July 28-29: Westmoreland County Air Show – Latrobe, PA
August 4-5: Minot AFB Air Show – Minot, ND
August 18-19: 60th Chicago Air & Water Show – Chicago, IL
August 22: Thunder Over the Boardwalk – Atlantic City, NJ
August 25-26: Thunder Over Michigan – Ypsilanti, MI
September 1-2: Canadian International Air Show – Toronto, ON
September 8-9: McConnell AFB Open House – McConnell AFB, KS
September 15-16: New York Air Show – New Windsor, NY
September 22-23: California Capital Air Show – Sacramento, CA
September 29-30: California International Air Show – Salinas, CA
October 6-7: Maryland Fleet Week & Air Show – Baltimore, MD
October 13-14: Fort Worth Alliance Air Show – Fort Worth, TX
October 20-21: Breitling Huntington Beach Air Show – Huntington Beach, CA
October 27-28: Thunder Over the Rock – Little Rock AFB, AR
November 3-4: Wings Over Homestead – Homestead ARB, FL
November 10-11: Aviation Nation – Nellis AFB, NV
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.
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.
Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves, Thunderbird #8, was in command of the jet at the time of the incident. Sgt. Kenneth Cordova, a maintenance crew member, was also on board at the time. The two were on a “familiarization flight” over Dayton while the team was in town to perform at the 2017 Vectren Dayton Airshow.
Upon landing, the jet slid off the runway and into the grass, causing the aircraft to flip.
The report mentions that Gonsalves missed his first landing approach and that water had restricted the view of his head-up display or HUD. This forced him to rely solely on cockpit instruments. On the second approach, the report claims that Gonsalves focused more on the runway than his airspeed, contributing to the crash. The Thunderbird F-16 touched down with only 6,130 feet of runway left. Seven to eight thousand feet of runway is required to land safely on wet pavement. The aircraft exited the runway and came to rest upside down in the grass nearby. It was destroyed in the incident.
An audio recording between Air Traffic Control and Thunderbird 8, obtained by the Dayton Daily News last month, revealed that the pilot was warned of “extreme precipitation” in the area and that ATC told him he was “flying at your own risk.”
In a statement, Air Combat Command spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said “Capt. Gonsalves is traveling with the team and narrating shows, but he is not medically cleared to fly at this time.”
The USAF Thunderbirds honored one of their own during a dedication ceremony in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Captain Joseph N. “Pete” Peterson graduated from Tuskegee Public School in 1967. It was during his high school years when he developed an interest in flying and started taking lessons. After graduation, he attended Auburn University and participated in the school’s ROTC program. On August 27th, 1971, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. During his flying career, he served in Korea flying the F-4E Phantom.
In 1981, Capt. Peterson joined the Thunderbirds. As only the second African-American pilot to join the team, he broke barriers and continued to change the way things were done. Sadly, he was one of the four pilots killed in the infamous “Diamond Crash” in 1982.
A 10.5 mile portion of State Road 199 in Tuskegee, AL changed names to honor Peterson. The Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson Memorial Boulevard honors the legacy that Peterson left. The road, near Morton Field Airport, connects two former Tuskegee airfields where black pilots trained in the days when training was segregated.
In a post on their Facebook page, the USAF Thunderbirds said that “as a Thunderbird, Pete exemplified everything we are as Airmen then and today — Bold, Courageous, and always #BreakingBarriers”
The six F-16 fighting falcons performed a flyover during the ceremony.
As the temperatures cool, the 2017 airshow season is coming to a close. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds wrapped up their season on October 22nd, in Moose Jaw, SK with their traditional home show for families.
The Blue Angels have a couple shows left before their traditional home closer at NAS Pensacola. The team will perform in Jacksonville, FL on November 4-5th before returning to Pensacola for the November 11-12th end of season show. The 2017 season has been one of ups and downs for the team, with Fat Albert being grounded for an extended amount of time due to a maintenance overhaul and a fleet grounding which ordered after a Marine C-130 crashed in Mississippi in July. On a positive note, the six blue and gold jets performed full displays at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in late July for the first time ever.
The Thunderbirds will also wrap up their 2017 show season at Nellis AFB on November 11-12th. The team performed in 36 cities, along with many additional flyovers, during the show season. The team performed flyovers of both the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, and traveled across the Atlantic to fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and appeared in the French Bastille Day military parade.
Didn’t get a chance to see one of the jet teams in 2017? Check out the preliminary 2018 schedules for the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels to see if they’ll be near you next year. Keep in mind that the 2018 schedules for all three teams will be released/updated at the annual ICAS convention during the second week of December. Stay tuned to AirshowStuff for the details as soon as they are available!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The 2014 airshow marked the first time a US military jet demonstration team performed at Oshkosh. Performing Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the USAF Thunderbirds soared through the skies of Oshkosh in their famous red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons. While this was a popular performance, it also forced the normal Oshkosh crowd line back a bit.
Matt Younkin was kind enough to take our cameras for a ride during his daytime Twin Beech Aerobatic demonstration at the 2014 show. We have two videos from that flight- one in the cockpit and one looking out over the wing. Check out both views below!
AirshowStuff also obtained a unique view of Kyle Franklin’s “Dracula” performance when we put a camera in the cockpit of Kyle’s plane.
One of the best things about Oshkosh is the variety of warbirds that perform each and every afternoon in the airshow. The 2014 show featured jets, radials, and much more!
The weather of Oshkosh can also provide a bit of a tricky landing situation for pilots. Check out several of our “Gusty Crosswind Landings” videos by watching the playlist below.
If you want even more Oshkosh, you can settle in for an hour and a half of action with our mega-compilation!