Yesterday we told you about how the US Navy plans to increase its support for airshows in 2016; happily, similar changes are in store from the US Air Force!
Overall, the USAF is placing emphasis on consistency in its public outreach efforts over the next two years. The first visible sign of this is the Thunderbirds releasing a two-year schedule (2016 and 2017) for the first time. This emphasis should also mean that the gains in support for 2016 that are mentioned below should not go away in 2017. Here are some of the details on the non-Thunderbirds portion of the USAF’s planned airshow presence, based on their presentation at this week’s International Council of Airshows convention.
The Air Combat Command (ACC) F-22 Raptor and F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration teams will both return in 2016 and are approved for 20 shows each. These shows will be prioritized based on things like recruiting opportunities, crowd size, location, and suitability. The initial schedules for both teams are expected to be approved and published by mid-February, although shows that fall later in the year will likely be added to the schedule in subsequent updates.
The popular USAF Heritage Flight program also returns in 2016 with many of the familiar warbirds and pilots from years past. It sounds like the number of Heritage Flights will increase as well; rumors are that any show with one of the demo teams scheduled will be granted a Heritage Flight. One gigantic new development in the Heritage Flight program is one that we have already reported on; the inclusion of the F-35 Lightning II (JSF) in select Heritage Flights. More details on this to come.
The Air Force is not quite following the Navy’s lead in lifting restrictions on static displays, but it is upping the limit for civilian shows from two aircraft per show in 2015 to four in 2016. Aircraft towed over from co-located stations do not count toward this limit. Flying units will still need to come up with the budget space to bring aircraft, but at least the opportunity is there!
Although not airshow related, event flyovers are another key area of military outreach efforts. They became few and far between for a while, but are staged to make somewhat of a comeback because the Air Force has approved limited flyovers of things like patriotic holiday events and national sporting events. These events will need to be approved by the Air Force, so it will fall on event organizers to specifically request flyover support. Fighter and helicopter flyovers are limited to two aircraft per event, while bomber or transport flyovers are limited to one aircraft per event. In the past, some of these flyovers would appear on the ACC Aerial Events schedule; no word on if this practice will continue.
Wings of Blue
The US Air Force Academy Wings of Blue parachute team will continue to perform as well, although no details are given as to how many events or what a schedule can be expected.
Bomber flybys should be making a comeback in 2016. The heavy bombers of the USAF, the B-52 Stratofortress, B-2 Spirit, and B-1 Lancer, are all now operated under the Air Force Global Strike Command (GSC), which also operates some T-38 Talons and UH-1 Hueys. GSC will be accepting requests for flyover support and filling them as unit schedules and budget allow. Although this may not return bomber flybys to pre-budget cut levels, it is yet another step in the right direction and some very exciting news.
Please stay tuned for more information and performance schedules as they become available!