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

Countdown To AirVenture: Best Of Oshkosh 2014

posted in: Airshows, AirshowStuff, Event Recap | 0

USAF Thunderbirds Take Off at Oshkosh

Oshkosh will be here before we know it! Soon, the skies of Wisconsin will be filled with planes and the grounds will be filled with, well, more planes! People too! A lots of them! Check out some of the expected items at this year’s show.

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!

Here’s a few more of our photos from the 2014 show. You can find many more photos in our gallery!

Thunderbirds Cross

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.

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.


Gary South Shore Airshow Canceled For 2017

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Schedules | 2

US Air Force Thunderbirds

The 2017 Gary airshow has been canceled by the city after failing to attract a major corporate sponsor. The event has faced similar trouble in recent years, and has been canceled several times since 2000. The headlining USAF Thunderbirds needed a go/no go decision by Monday the 15th, so Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson pulled the plug on Friday afternoon. The July 8-9 weekend will now be open on the team’s 2017 airshow schedule for another airshow to arrange an appearance.

US Air Force Thunderbirds Visit US Navy Blue Angels In Pensacola For Joint Training, Formation Photo Flight

posted in: Jet Teams, Popular Posts | 1

US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels Group Photo

Jet team fans in Florida got a rare treat last week when the US Air Force Thunderbirds popped in for a visit with the US Navy Blue Angels and their home base in Pensacola. The two teams rarely cross paths during the airshow season, but do try to arrange some time together each year to learn from one another and pass on knowledge.

US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue AngelsUS Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels

This year, the Thunderbirds took advantage of some convenient timing and stopped at NAS Pensacola between their shows at nearby Tyndall AFB and Lake Charles, LA. They received a warm welcome from their Navy counterparts, and during the three days together the team members swapped best practices and bonded through many different activities.

US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue AngelsUS Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels

On Tuesday, each team performed a full routine over the base and two pilots from each team were able to ride with their counterparts. The Blue Angels are famous for not wearing G-suits, and you can rest assured that Thunderbirds #1 and #5 did not wear any during their ride either. Blue Angels #1 and #4, however, did accept the offered G-suits for their ride in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, since it can pull more Gs than the Hornet.

US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue AngelsUS Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels

The maintenance and support crews got in on the fun as well, and the public affairs officers from each team ‘took over’ the other team’s Instagram account, and documented the visit with many video clips and photos. Among the coolest photos taken were several group shots of the combined teams. The joint training concluded with a double formation photo flight over the surrounding area, offering the Thunderbirds a chance the “buzz the beach”, the typical Blue Angel practice upon returning home from a show. The photo flight did have a hiccup when some turbulence caused two Blue Angel Hornets to make mid-air contact, but the highly trained pilots recovered quickly and ensured a safe outcome.

You can see more of the incredible photos and videos from this event in our forum thread: 2017 US Navy Blue Angels/USAF Thunderbirds Joint Training

US Air Force Thunderbirds And Patrouille de France Fly Together Over Nevada

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Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together

Two teams, together as one. That was the sight in the skies around Nellis AFB on today as the Patrouille de France arrived in Las Vegas for a visit with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds at their home base. The Thunderbirds sent up all six of their F-16 Fighting Falcons to escort the eight French Alpha Jets in, setting up a dramatic photo opportunity over the desert and mountains near Nellis.

Patrouille de France and Thunderbirds Fly Together

The pilots and maintainers will spend two days in Las Vegas before flying to Colorado Springs, CO and Peterson AFB to fly over the US Air Force Academy. From there, they will travel to Langley AFB to take part in a VIP event which AirshowStuff will bring you coverage of on Friday. Several other events on their North American tour follow before they return to France in May.

Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds

This isn’t the first time that the USAF Thunderbirds have spent time with the Patrouille de France. The teams performed together at the Melbourne Air & Space Show in early April, and again one week later at Maxwell AFB in Alabama.

The Patrouille’s visit to Nellis AFB comes a short time after they had a similar joint formation flight with the Blue Angels while visiting them in Pensacola.

All photos courtesy of the Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds

Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together
Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together
Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and Thunderbirds

USAF Thunderbirds Museum Reopens At Nellis AFB

posted in: Jet Teams, Museums | 1

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds have re-opened their team museum at their home base of Nellis AFB. The museum helps tell the Thunderbird story, from its beginnings, to today.

Inside the museum, you’ll find artifacts and other memorabilia including documentation on the team’s formation. The picture below shows the designation and order to create the 3600th USAF Air Demonstration Unit at Luke AFB on May 23rd, 1953.

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

Other displays include old Thunderbird team gear, patches, and photographs.

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

To access the museum, visitors must have a valid DOD ID card to get onto base property or be escorted by a DOD ID cardholder. The hours of operation are 8 am to 4 pm, and the location is 4445 Tyndall Avenue, Nellis AFB, NV 89191. For the most up-to-date information, call 702-652-6776.

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