New Drone Demo Team Maintains Social Distancing, Performs Remote Airshows.
In a novel, April 1, 2020, response to the seriousness of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Air Force has announced the creation of a new Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) flight demonstration team called the “U.S. Air Force Hummingbirds”. The new team allows drone demonstration pilots to conduct airshows while maintaining social distancing guidelines and airshow fans to watch the unique flight demonstrations remotely from home, including new in-flight perspectives never experienced by airshow crowds.
A key Air Force official told TheAviationist.com, “The Air Force is pivoting to meet the emerging challenge of the COVID-19 crisis by fielding the world’s premiere socially distant flight demonstration team.” Officials went on to say, “This new, interim demonstration format showcases the Air Force’s ability to fly, fight and adapt in any circumstance, no matter how adverse. The Hummingbirds are truly a window into the future of air combat.”
The Hummingbirds will fly a demonstration routine similar to the Thunderbirds using six MQ-9 Reaper drones. Four of the Reapers while fly the “Faux Diamond” formation while the other two RPAs will perform part of the demonstration as the “Socially Distant Solos”. Solo maneuvers will include the dynamic “low speed pass” and the new, “really low speed pass”. Air Force officials also revealed a new solo maneuver unique to the Hummingbirds called the “Super Sneak Pass”. According to the Hummingbirds public affairs office, “During the new Super Sneak Pass, we see you, but you’ll never see us. The super sneak pass showcases the unique surveillance capabilities of the MQ-9 in the real world.”
Members of the Hummingbirds public affairs office said that, “We’ll stream the video feed from the RPAs as they fly. Everyone gets media access with this airshow format!” Airshow enthusiasts disappointed by cancellations of early season airshows can now fly along in the formation remotely from their laptops, desktops and even on their mobile devices using the new, official USAF Hummingbirds app.
But the team’s development has not been without operational obstacles in adapting to the new format. In an exclusive interview with TheAviationist.com, Hummingbird No. 1, team leader Col. Nigel “Joystick” Harris, revealed that, “We can actually fly the demo at home in our pajamas. But, like all precision aerial demonstrations, there is some inherent risk. Although the Hummingbirds maneuvers are neither stunts or tricks, but actual combat maneuvers performed by every RPA operator, my cat, Thunderchief, walked across the keyboard during a demo practice and I nearly augured in.” The team has since adopted a safety mandate of no cats being allowed in the demonstration control area during practices or performances.
The remote demonstration schedule for the new Hummingbirds demo team is to be announced soon and will even feature “virtual classroom” outreach meetings with the team via Skype for kids forced into home school by the crisis. Team commander Col. Nigel “Joystick” Harris told reporters, “The homeschool outreach Skype visits will be challenging, none of us have put on a uniform in a month, and with the relaxed grooming standards we look more like Cheech & Chong than Maverick and Goose, but we are determined to provide new motivation this upcoming generation of quaran-teens”.