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

Bob Hoover Remembered With Celebration Of Life Ceremony, Triple Flyover

posted in: Miscellaneous, Popular Posts | 1
R. A. "Bob" Hoover
Source: AOPA

Aviation lost one of its greats one month ago, when R.A. “Bob” Hoover passed away at the age of 94. Bob was without a doubt one of the most legendary pilots to have graced the skies. His exploits in World War II would have been enough for most pilots, but his real fame was gained following the war when he flew as a test pilot and airshow demonstration pilot. He was also an incredible human being who was renowned for his story-telling, energy, and kindness.

True to his form, the aviation community came together a few weeks after his death to celebrate his life, which a star-studded event at Van Nuys airport. Numerous speakers, many aviation legends themselves, took to the stage to share their stories of Bob and his accomplishments. The event eventually moved outside, where a military honor guard fired a gun salute and played taps as three formation of aircraft roared overhead. The first formation was led by a T-39 Sabreliner, one of the many aircraft types that will forever be linked to Hoover. It was joined by two F-16s from the US Air Force Thunderbirds and a CT-114 Tutor from the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. The second formation saw an F-22 Raptor lead a pair of F-86 Sabres, a type that Bob test flew during his career. The final formation had four warbirds; a P-40 Warhawk, an F6F Hellcat, a Spitfire, and perhaps Bob’s most famous airplane, his P-51 Mustang “Ole Yeller”. In a fitting tribute, “Ole Yeller” performed the missing man pull out of the formation as the last notes of taps faded away.

Fortunately, Bob was the subject of many documentaries and interviews during his time with us, and generations to come will have many recordings to hear his wisdom through. Although Bob is gone, he will continue to touch the lives of aviators for a long, long time.

USAF Thunderbirds Flyover New York City

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USAF Thunderbirds Flyover New York City

The United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, flew over famous landmarks around New York City Friday morning.

It was announced last Friday that the Thunderbirds had planned a flyover around the city, framing the 6 red, white and blue F-16s with landmarks such as the World Trade Center and Empire State Building.

The Thunderbirds will perform at the 2016 New York Air Show this Labor Day weekend.

See more photos on the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Facebook page and in the slideshow below. Photos courtesy of the Thunderbirds.

Syracuse International Air Show Books Sea Harrier To Replace Blue Angels; Show Will Donate All Profits

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Art Nalls takes a bow in his Sea Harrier to cap off his performance at the 2015 Rockford AirFest.
Art Nalls takes a bow in his Sea Harrier to cap off his performance at the 2015 Rockford AirFest.

The Syracuse International Air Show, scheduled for this upcoming June 11-12 weekend, has secured the Nalls Aviation Sea Harrier as its headlining act. The show took quick action to book the “SHAR” after the US Navy Blue Angels canceled their performance in the wake of last week’s tragic crash of Marine Captain Jeff Kuss. Organizers decided to hold the show as a tribute to Capt. Kuss, and will donate all profits to his family. Art, like many on his team, is a former Marine and was happy to help. He will also donate a large portion of his appearance fee to the fallen angel’s family.

Many more airshows will be scrambling to find new headliners due to the unprecedented dual stand downs by the Blue Angels as well as the USAF Thunderbirds after their own crash last week. Generally a last minute cancellation is the worst thing that can happen to an airshow organization, so the shows will likely go on as scheduled. Performers like the Art Nalls and the Breitling Jet Team may get some extra calls for their services. It also remains to be seen whether the immense public spotlight that was put on airshows after the crashes will help or hurt attendance. Hopefully all of the upcoming airshows can weather the storm.

Enjoy this unique view that we were able to capture of Art Nalls’ performance at the 2014 Cleveland National Air Show:

USAF Thunderbirds Fly Over New York City For Photo Mission

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USAF Thunderbirds Delta and Empire State Building - New York City

In a rare sight, 7 USAF F-16 Fighting Falcons belonging to the USAF Thunderbirds flew over New York City today as part of a photo mission. The 6 delta pilots and a photo ship flew over Long Island, taking pictures over One World Trade Center, the 9-11 Memorial, Central Park and the Empire State Building. The last time the Thunderbirds flew over NYC was 10 years ago.

USAF Thunderbirds Over One World Trade Center - New York CityUSAF Thunderbirds Over Central Park - New York City

Folks on the ground also got an awesome view, as Peter Moy shows in this photo posted on Flickr. Fans also posted well wishes and appreciation to the Thunderbirds on the team’s Facebook page.

Last week, Thunderbird 8 flew over the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

If you’re in the Long Island area, you can catch the team’s full performance at the Jones Beach Airshow this Saturday and Sunday, May 23rd and 24th.

Road Work Forces Deke Slayton Airfest (La Crosse, WI) To Postpone Airshow Until 2017

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Deke Slayton Airfest - La Crosse, WI

The airshow cancellations just keep on coming. The latest show to cancel their 2015 effort is the Deke Slayton Airfest in La Crosse, WI, which was scheduled for the weekend of August 8-9. Organizers announced yesterday (just hours after the Wings Over Wasaga cancellation) that the show will not be happening this year due to nearby road work. The show is held at the La Crosse Regional Airport, which is located on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River with very limited access to the main city. Many roads in the area, including I-90, will be under various states of construction this summer, and show organizers say that after looking at the situation with local law enforcement, they simply do not feel that adequate access to the island can be guaranteed should an emergency arise.

The show was to feature the USAF Thunderbirds for the first time in 10 years after hosting the US Navy Blue Angels last year. There has been no announcement yet on where the Thunderbirds might perform instead. Show organizers also announced that they will not even attempt to put on a show in 2016 since the same road work will still be underway. Instead they will begin planning for a show sometime in 2017, after the completion of the construction project.

[UPDATED] Thunder Over Louisville Announces Lineup – USAF Thunderbirds and Super Hornet No Longer Performing

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams | 4

USAF Thunderbirds

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.

Thunder Over Louisville Aerobatic Box

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
Canadian Harvards
Cliff Robinson – Stearman
F-86 Sabre
Flash Gordon – L-39 Albatros
USMC AV-8B Harrier Demo
Kate Kyler
Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules
Lee Leet – Super Tucano
Nick Coleman – Taylorcraft
P-51 Mustang
Team AeroDynamix
USAF Thunderbirds
US Army Golden Knights
Trojan Horsemen
UPS 767

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!

FLYOVER ALERT: Super Bowl XLIX

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Super Bowl Flyover

Airshow fans! Tune into NBC Sunday at 6pm to see the USAF Thunderbirds flyover the Super Bowl! Six red, white, and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons from the USAF’s aerial demonstration squadron will flyover around 6pm Eastern time at the end of the National Anthem to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Air Force. The flyover should be televised live on NBC.

Following the Super Bowl flyover, the Thunderbirds will perform 71 demonstrations at 39 locations this season. 2015 is the team’s 62nd season.

The Thunderbirds won’t be the only aerial assets in the air during the Super Bowl. F-16s from the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing in Tucson will be enforcing the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in effect over the stadium and Blackhawk helicopters from US Customs and Border Protection will also be on site.