What’s It Like to Be Inside the USAF Thunderbirds “High Bomb Burst Cross”.

Incredible video shows the instant the four-plane diamond formation converges and crosses at minimal separation. (Photo: via Instagram)

Remarkable Video Shows Four F-16s Converging in Dramatic Crossing Maneuver.

You may have seen the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, perform their thrilling “High Bomb burst Cross” maneuver, but you’ve never seen it like this.

This new video, shot from inside Thunderbird #2, flown by “Left Wing” in the diamond formation, USAF Major Will Graef, provides some sense of the rate of closure of the four aircraft. The speed and proximity of the aircraft truly leaves little margin for error.

The High Bomb Burst Cross is flown during the Thunderbirds’ “high show”, when visibility, cloud cover and winds enable the team to fly with their highest maximum altitude restriction. The “Cross” is actually the convergence of the four diamond formation aircraft at the bottom of the High Bomb Burst, a spectacular vertical break when the four F-16s of the diamond formation climb vertically to altitude in the Thunderbird diamond, two aircraft perform quarter-rolls, one performs a half-roll, and the aircraft “break” at somewhere between 12,000-15,000 feet altitude. Following the break, the aircraft diverge in four different directions, performing the back half of a loop to re-converge over show center.

A chart for the certification of the Thunderbird’s demo routine shows the dramatic High Bombburst Cross. (Photo: FAA.gov)

Viewed from the ground the High Bomb Burst Cross looks like the aircraft converge at incredible speed, which they do, but also at very close vertical proximity, which is a bit of a trick of perception as viewed from the ground. But even if the separation distance between the F-16s does appear greater as viewed from the cockpit video camera of Thunderbird #2, Maj. Will Graef’s aircraft, there is still little margin for error in a maneuver when rates of closure are well above 1,000 MPH.

The new video, posted late this week by, Thunderbird #12, Public Affairs Officer Maj. Ray Geoffroy and Thunderbird #2, “Left Wing” in the diamond formation, Maj. Will Graef. Within hours the video had thousands of views and hundreds of shares as one of the most unique and dynamic scenes to surface during the 2019 airshow season so far.

The Thunderbird’s four-ship diamond formation that performs the High Bombburst Cross at Nellis AFB, where the team is based. (Photo: TheAviationist)

By the way, it’s worth remembering that other demo teams perform a similar maneuver. One these, is the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori whose peculiarity is the Downward Bomb Burst, a maneuver which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for about 90 years now. During the Downward Bomb Burst the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point.



About Tom Demerly 371 Articles
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.