USAF Thunderbirds Head To El Centro For Joint Winter Training With Blue Angels

US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels Joint Formation - AirshowStuff
(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Hicks/Released)

The US Air Force Thunderbirds will be joining their US Navy Blue Angel counterparts in Southern California for the second year in a row.

The team posted a statement to social media today which says that between February 24th and March 3rd, the teams will hold an “information exchange”. The Thunderbirds will fly from their home base of Nellis AFB in Las Vegas to NAF El Centro, where the Blue Angels are conducting winter training.

Although full airshow performances are not planned, the teams will likely each take their counterparts for flights during the period.

Joint meetups like this used to be rare, but they are becoming more common in recent years. The teams both performed together at the Andrews AFB airshow in 2019, but have had multiple meetups since then. They met in El Centro during last year’s winter training, then met again in Pensacola to plan their special Operation America Strong joint flyovers. The formations combined again in July with a double flyover of Washington DC for Independence Day.

The sparse 2020 airshow season – the Blue Angels did not fly a single airshow performance – gave both teams a leg up on training for 2021. The Blue Angels said goodbye to their F-18 Legacy Hornets in November and began flying the new Super Hornets. They appear to be well ahead of their typical training pace, despite the new jets and a new routine which has been shortened and reconfigured to reduce stress on the jets.

The Thunderbirds are not transitioning to new aircraft, but they also appear to be revamping their routine with new maneuvers. Rumor has it that the routine is a bit shorter than in years passed, which could possibly stem from conversations with the Blues about their plans – demonstrating exactly the kind of knowledge transfer these joint sessions offer.

If all goes as planned, both teams will kick off their 2021 airshow seasons in mid-April. Be sure to head over to our airshow calendar page for a full list of airshow and aviation events in the US and Canada, including appearances by major military performers.

Here is the full statement from the Thunderbirds:

We’re excited to announce our upcoming information exchange with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels onboard Naval Air Facility (NAF) El Centro from February 24-March 3.

Both teams are in the middle of their winter training cycles and will not conduct performances; however, training flights with similar profiles to the air show routine will be conducted in accordance with annual training objectives.

“We are thrilled to once again host the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at our winter training facility for an invaluable information exchange” said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader. “Each opportunity the teams have to work together, is an opportunity to share experiences and best practices between our two service branches.”

The last time the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds performed together at an air show was at the Joint Base Andrews Air and Space Expo. May 11-12, 2019. Upon cancellation of air shows in 2020, the two teams came together in a collaborative, multi-city flyover mission called “America Strong” saluting healthcare workers, first responders, military and other essential personnel serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“Last year’s America Strong joint flyover mission is a testament of how important and valuable joint trainings with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are for our respective teams and the Department of Defense as a whole,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds commander and leader. “When we are able to share our expertise and operational knowledge about our shared mission, we can better serve the nation. We appreciate the Blue Angels for hosting us again and look forward to enhancing our operations from this joint exchange.

”This year, the Thunderbirds are slated to perform 49 demonstrations at 27 locations and the Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 53 flight demonstrations at 28 locations across the United States and Canada.

3 Responses

  1. Jamey Drew

    I’ve always been a Navy man so that would make me a Blue Angel supporter. The reason why is. My old man was drafted and he was sent to serve in the navy, thus that makes me a huge supporter of the Blues.
    The first time I went to a airshow the Blues were flying the F-4’s. And all I can remember is, they were loud as hell. But we always went to see them every time they were in town.
    I’ve seen the T-birds a few times and they put on a Hell of a demo. And both the Blues and the T-Birds are great representation of our country. They are what we are all about. Work together towards to achieve a common goal.

  2. tony ford

    “They appear to be well ahead of their typical training pace, despite the new jets and a new routine which has been shortened and reconfigured to reduce stress on the jets.”

    Sad to hear a shortened and watered down routine.☹️

  3. Nancy Assaf

    I and my Family are huge Blue Angels fans. We’ve only been able to see the Thunderbirds once, and they were great as well. I can’t wait for the shows. It’s been long enough! I am bummed that they are shortening the routines. We go to a lot of trouble and expense to travel with little Grandchildren to see the shows, and wait long hours for the shows, so we really appreciate it when they are longer.

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