Speculation is growing that the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels may be planning a nation-wide set of flyovers to salute healthcare workers, first responders, and essential workers who are helping to battle the coronavirus across America.
On Sunday, an extensive list of cities across the country was posted to social media with claims that it was a schedule for a number of flyovers to be conducted between April 23rd and May 2nd. The supposed plan would see the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels join forces for a mass flyover of East Coast cities like New York City and Washington, DC before splitting up to cover different sections of the country. The Thunderbirds would take the Western US while the Blue Angels cover the Midwest. They would again meet in Texas for a day of joint flyovers to close the program.
This all seemed pretty far-fetched. A nation-wide campaign like this would take immense planning and resources, and would certainly require some travel in a time when travel is to be minimized.
However, evidence is growing that the list of flyovers may in fact be a real plan. On Monday afternoon aviation spotters heard Thunderbird 1 check in with the air traffic control tower at NAS Pensacola with 8 other aircraft in his formation. Other spotters posted videos of the jets landing at the base. A local photographer, Laura Bogan, snapped pictures of all 9 jets flying over the area before landing.
Thunderbird 1 Flight contact Sherman tower…ATC Transmission between Thunderbird 1 and ATC at NAS Pensacola Monday
Sherman Tower, Thunderbird 1, nine-ship, we are 11 miles to the east with information November, request low initial runway 25 right.
Meanwhile, C-17s with various “TBIRD” callsigns have been tracked flying to some of the locations mentioned for possible flyovers, including near New York. Today, C-17s with the callsigns TBIRD14 and TBIRD15 were spotted flying into NAS Pensacola. The Thunderbirds frequently use C-17s with “TBIRD” callsigns to transport ground crew and equipment to layover sites.
The Thunderbirds first started the idea of community flyovers on April 11th, with flyovers around their hometown of Las Vegas. A week later on Saturday, April 18th, the Thunderbirds conducted flyovers of several Colorado cities as part of their annual mission to fly over the USAF Academy graduation ceremony. They stated that the extra flyovers were to honor “Colorado’s healthcare workers and first responders who are on the frontlines combating COVID-19.”
During both flyovers, residents were encouraged not to travel to see the teams. “While our jets will be flying close together, we want stress that no one should travel or gather to see us fly,” Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader said. The flyovers were well received by area residents in both locations, with many people posting pictures and videos on social media.
For now, the teams are not confirming anything publicly and have made no comments on why the Thunderbirds have dropped in to Pensacola. We reached out to the teams for comment Sunday evening. As of Monday afternoon, we have not received a response. It is likely that they are remaining quiet while final details are worked out, and it is also possible that they will keep plans under wraps until the last minute to discourage any long-distance travel.
The original post was deleted shortly after appearing and no further details have leaked. It is evident that something big is brewing; the teams spending any time together is a fairly rare and special event and they already spent time together earlier this year. This does not have the feeling of a normal “joint training” session.
Neither the Thunderbirds nor the Blue Angels are performing at normal airshows any time soon, as just about every airshow through the end of June has been postponed or canceled. They do continue to train, and even as military pilots require a certain amount of flight time to maintain currency in their aircraft.