Thunderbirds Join Blue Angels in California for Winter Information Exchange.

File photos of the USAF Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels at different demonstrations. It is unusual for the two teams to be flying from the same venue. (Photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Top U.S. Demo Teams Gather at NAF El Centro, California to Share Best Practices.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet demonstration teams are meeting this week to compare notes and share ideas on precision jet team operations. The two teams have converged at Naval Air Facility El Centro in southern California.

While the two teams will not fly together or perform their normal demonstration routines during the meeting, the summit will, no doubt, provide some unique flying moments for fans gathered at the popular observation areas outside the fence surrounding El Centro, including one that made social media news during a spectacular low transition take-off above aviation photographers earlier this year.

“There are no scheduled performances during this exchange however, training flights with similar profiles to the air show routine may be conducted in accordance with annual training objectives. Each team is currently in the middle of their winter training cycles,” said a report published today in the Imperial Valley Desert Review, a news outlet close to El Centro.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, the new Commander of the Blue Angels, told reporters, “I am incredibly excited to share the world class training facilities here in El Centro with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Our time in El Centro is crucial for transitioning in new pilots, training support and maintenance personnel, and preparing the aircraft for the high operating tempo of the air show season. This is a phenomenal opportunity to meet and integrate with our U.S. Air Force counterparts and share best practices. Undoubtedly the interaction between our teams this week will lead to safer and more effective flight demonstrations.”

The last time the USAF Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels performed at the same venue was in 2019 at Joint Base Andrews Air & Space Expo in Maryland in May. (Photos: USAF Master Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

The summit of the top U.S. jet teams comes on the same weekend as the Heritage Flight Conference at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, Arizona, where aircraft and flight crews who participate in the multi-aircraft, mixed formation Heritage Flights are renewing certifications for airshow demonstration with governing authorities.

Both activities are key to preparation for the U.S. airshow season which begins in March with the first performances of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. The Blues will start their demo season on March 14, 15 at the El Centro Airshow in California and the Thunderbirds kick off the season on March 14, 15 at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas.


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Welcome to El Centro @afthunderbirds #8! Stay tuned, we have some really cool stuff lined up this week!

A post shared by Blue Angels (@usnavyblueangels) on

The contrast between the two major U.S. military jet demo teams is interesting since the Thunderbirds fly the small, lightweight, single engine F-16 and the Blue Angels are beginning their last season with the larger, twin engine F/A-18 Hornet before transitioning to the newer, larger Super hornet in 2021.

Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commander of the team, told assembled media that, “Training with the Blue Angels, on the ground and in the air, is a very unique and valuable experience. Our squadrons have a similar mission set and share the same goal of providing an impeccable demonstration for our upcoming shows during the 2020 season. We deeply appreciate the expertise and operational knowledge the Blue Angels bring to our shared mission and look forward to enhancing our operations from this joint exchange.”

The information exchange will last from February 25 through the 29th at El Centro before the teams return to their regular preparations before the start of the 2020 airshow season.

An interesting composite image of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels at NAF El Centro. (Image credit: Stephen Erickson)

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, 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.