Midwest America Strong Blue Angels/Thunderbirds Flight Delayed by Weather, Draws Critics.

The two teams flying together. (Image credit: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2 (PO2) Cody Hendrix.)

Media Shows Poor Social Distancing at NYC Flight. No New Flight Route Maps Published. Meanwhile, Russia Announces Moscow flights.

It could not have been a more perfect day over New York City as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed flyovers in recognition of front-line personnel during the global war on COVID-19 on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. The flight was the first of a series of planned flyovers to take place around the U.S. honoring health care workers and first responders in the ongoing crisis.

The two teams performed multiple passes to the delight of large crowds around NYC and the outlying areas. Photos by aviation photographers on the ground from around the eastern U.S. and New York area, including expert photographer Owen Hewitt of South Carolina, followed the teams’ progress across the eastern seaboard. Hewitt managed to capture photos of their midair refueling from a KC-10 Extender aerial tanker, showing the two teams in formation behind the tanker. The route of the teams was published prior to the flights to enable spectators to follow the action.

East coast based aviation photographer Owen Hewitt shot remarkable photos of the Blue Angel/Thunderbird America Strong flyover returning from New York as they prepared to refuel from a USAF KC-10 Extender over the eastern U.S.. (Photo: Owen Hewitt via Facebook)

In Russia, the ground vehicle and personnel-based portion of the annual May 6 Victory Day Parade in observance of Russia’s victory in WWII, has been postponed. The highly anticipated annual flyovers in Moscow will continue. Russian media outlets reported that, “An air parade will be held in Russia on Victory Day May 9, despite restrictions due to the coronavirus.” Russian President Vladimir Putin announced, “In the parade, saluting the heroes, aviation equipment, modern combat aircraft and helicopters will be held. And in the evening in the city centers there will certainly be a traditional fireworks display.”

Photo of the Blue Angel/Thunderbird America Strong flyover in New York from the USAF Thunderbird official Facebook page. (Photo: USAF Thunderbirds via Facebook)

Back in the U.S., where the first “America Strong” flight of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds over the east coast produced incredible air-to-air images, photos of crowds gathering on the ground without social distancing surfaced in several media outlets. An April 28, 2020 article by Kevin Sheehan and Jorge Ftiz-Gibbon for the New York Post was headlined, “NYC Ignores Social Distancing for Blue Angels, Thunderbirds Flyover”. Another headline in The Daily Mail by Lauren Fruen with photos of tightly packed crowds gathering well before the flyovers read, “Thousands IGNORE stay-at-home order and cram along banks of the Hudson to watch Thunderbirds and Blue Angels dart across NYC’s skies in honor of health care workers battling COVID-19”.

Photos published in The Daily Mail of the Blue Angel/Thunderbird America Strong flyovers showed civilian crowds not social distancing while healthcare workers in New York maintained social distancing and mask use guidelines. (Photos: The Daily Mail and via Twitter/Facebook)

The U.S. military anticipated the crowds and preemptively released statements to prevent violation of social distancing guidelines, but some civilian groups failed to follow the directives. Prior to Tuesdays flight over NYC, both the Air Force and Navy used social media and press releases to instruct viewers of the flyover to maintain social distancing guidelines and mask use while watching the event. Both the team’s public affairs officials said that spectators, “should also refrain from traveling to landmarks, hospitals and gathering in large groups to view the flyover.”

The planned America Strong flight over the Midwest for today, Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at venues including Detroit, Michigan, was postponed due to weather. Rain and low overcast entered the region late Tuesday night and has continued throughout Wednesday preventing the flights from taking place.

While unconfirmed, the Air Force and Navy may be reevaluating the media presentation of the flights in advance of the remaining fly overs to better manage civilian viewership on the ground. The announcement of the specific flight route and times for the NYC area flyover may have contributed to the crowding of spectators who ignored the military’s repeated advisories to maintain social distancing guidelines. While unconfirmed, it is possible the military may elect to refrain from publishing a specific flight route as they did with the Tuesday, NYC flyover in an attempt to disperse viewers on the ground who did not comply with social distancing guidelines.

On Tuesday evening before the planned Detroit area flyovers, social media was abuzz with conversations about where to best view the event, possibly prompting reevaluation of some aspects of the public affairs segment of the missions. Tami Duquette, who lives in downtown Detroit atop one of the city’s fashionably rehabilitated apartment complexes, told TheAviationist.com, “I have the best seat right here and generally don’t have to leave the apartment”. Along with many other downtown Detroit residents, her windows face the riverfront area where the flyovers may be concentrated. Duquette went on to say, “The reality is, most people [in Detroit] have a great seat right from their home or apartment. The planes cover such a wide range coming in and going.”

As of early Wednesday afternoon, April 29, no new flight route information had been released on the Air Force Thunderbirds’ official Facebook page about the remaining flights in the America Strong event schedule.

About Tom Demerly
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.