Tag Archives: United States Air Force Thunderbirds

Airshow Insider: Behind The Scenes with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

A Lot Goes Into Making a USAF Thunderbirds Flight Demo Happen; Here is Some of the Advanced Preparation.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens, Michigan in the U.S. celebrated their 100th Anniversary with the Team Selfridge Open House and Air Show on Aug. 19 and 20. As a major U.S. airshow the event featured displays celebrating both U.S. Air Force history that showcased current and future operations at Selfridge and throughout the Air Force. As with many important airshows at Air Force facilities throughout the season the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were the headlining performers at the show.

We got an insider’s look at the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, arrival and preparation for the big weekend prior to the show. Selfridge Air National Guard Base Public Affairs team, including USAF MSgt. David Kujawa, worked hard to get TheAviationist.com access to the Thunderbirds and a unique, behind-the-scenes look at their support team days before the airshow.

Thunderbird ground crew closes up on the jets prior to more rain on the Thursday before show weekend at Selfridge.

The Thunderbird’s arrival at Selfridge ANGB on Thursday, Aug. 17, two days before the show was unique since the team faced the combined challenges of flying all the way from their home base at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada and arriving at Selfridge ANGB in bad weather.

Thunderstorms and high winds buffeted the base and airshow venue early on arrival day. A KC-135T Stratotanker from the 171st Air Refueling Squadron at Selfridge ANGB launched early on Thursday from Michigan to support the Thunderbirds flight from Nevada to Michigan. After their rendezvous over the western U.S. the Michigan based tanker crew conducted three midair refuelings for each of the five Thunderbird F-16’s on their way to Selfridge. The sixth aircraft was already on station at Selfridge.

Thursday was a combined media day for the Thunderbirds and Selfridge along with crew orientation to the venue; rehearsal and planning for the numerous appearances and activities the Thunderbirds participate in while at a demonstration venue.

Traveling with a massive amount of parts and equipment to insure the show launches all aircraft in a high state of readiness, Thunderbird team members discuss the maintenance schedule.

One mission of the Thunderbirds during their visit to Selfridge was a Hometown Hero flight with Dr. Brian Smith of Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Smith was chosen for a Thunderbird Hometown Hero flight for his unselfish service to community and his lifelong commitment to education. He has received Congressional recognition for his efforts to steer young people to a career in aviation. Dr. Smith is the First African American to get a Ph.D in biomedical engineering from Wayne State University in Detroit. He also studied the effects of IEDs on soldiers in conflict zones and the effects of aircraft ejection on pilots. Smith’s family has a long history of selfless service to the U.S. military. His father served in World War II including spending time in a prisoner of war camp.

“I was up all night, couldn’t sleep, I am so excited.” Dr. Smith told us. “I tried to take a nap earlier today. No luck. I just want to get up there. I’m hoping they let me control the aircraft briefly. I’m a licensed pilot. Maybe I can experience the high roll rate of the aircraft myself.”

Dr. Brian Smith of Detroit, Michigan was fortunate enough to be selected as a Thunderbird “Hometown Hero” and flew with the team on Saturday after Thursday’s flight was weathered out.

Dr. Smith’s flight was scrubbed on Thursday due to bad weather but he did fly on Saturday morning with the Thunderbirds.

During the ground rehearsal for the weekend’s demonstrations the Thunderbirds would be parked across the field from the show line and spectators at Selfridge. TSgt. William Russell, a Thunderbird Crew Chief from Burlington, Vermont, told TheAviationist.com, “We’re going through the grey launch process rehearsal. It’s what we use to prepare aircraft for arriving at or leaving a show state.

TSgt William Russell, a Crew Chief on swing shift for the Thunderbirds, from Burlington, Vermont helps prepare the team by going through the grey launch process. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

A significant amount of time on Thursday was spent with Thunderbird crews drilling on the ground demonstration portion of their show. The choreography and precision you see with the ground crew is difficult to achieve and requires frequent practice to maintain, so Thunderbird personnel are constantly training the procedures that are more regimented versions of the same launch protocols used for a combat F-16 unit in the Air Force.

Thunderbirds rehearse the precision drill and ceremony launch procedure of their show constantly.

A Thunderbird team member stows pilot gear for the team as the rain approaches.

The day was quiet as weather moved in and the Thunderbirds closed up their aircraft after performing regular maintenance and their training on the tarmac. Pilots in ready rooms held meetings for the flight demo and made plans for interfacing with the public throughout the demanding show weekend. It was an interesting look inside the process of the team getting ready for a typical Thunderbird airshow weekend.

H/T to Lance Riegle for the help with the video

 

Here Are The Highlights Of Royal International Air Tattoo 2017

Several Interesting Aircraft Took Part In This Year’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT).

Held at RAF Fairford, on Jul. 14-16, RIAT 2017 brought to the UK a wide variety of interesting aircraft from around the world. Among them, the Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flanker, the F-22 Raptor, the Italian special colored Tornado, the Thunderbirds demo team as well as the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, escorted by two F-15Cs, on a Global Power sortie.

The images in this post were taken by The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito.

The Italian Air Force Tornado A-200A CSX7041/RS-01 of the air arm’s Reparto Sperimentale Volo (flight test centre) was awarded the prize for best livery.

The Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress G-BEDF (124485/DF-A) of the B-17 Preservation Trust.

Straight from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, the B-2 Spirit from Air Force Global Strike Command flew over RAF Fairford flanked by two F-15C Eagle jets.

A Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker of the 100th ARW from RAF Mildenhall flying with the extended “boom”.

The C-130J-30 Hercules 08-8602/RS from the 37th Airlift Squadron, 86th Airlift Wing, United States Air Forces in Europe, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

A three-ship formation of 2x F-15Cs and 1x F-15E from RAF Lakenhath 48th FW.

Taking part in the 70th Anniversary flypast there were also these F-16CJs belonging to the 480th FS from Spangdahlem, Germany, temporarily deployed to RAF Lakenheath.

The F-22 flying alongside the P-51B Mustang. Maj Dan ‘Rock’ Dickinson of the US Air Force’s 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, was awarded the Paul Bowen Trophy, presented in memory of Royal International Air Tattoo co-founder Paul Bowen, for the best jet demonstration.

The Ukrainian Air Force brought a pair of Su-27 Flankers, supported by an Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft. The single seater performed a stunning aerial display.

The Lockheed U-2 “Dragon Lady” took also part in RIAT 2017. Interestingly, the chase car used by the ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft was Tesla chase car instead of the Chevrolet Camaro typically used for this task.

The Thunderbirds performed a flyby along with the RAF Red Arrows. This year the USAF demo team, escorted by two F-22s, also took part in the Bastille Day flypast over Paris, France.

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon. The aircraft will soon serve in the UK as next MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft).

Couteau Delta, made by two Mirage 2000Ds of the French Air Force was one of the highlights of this year’s RIAT. The team included a Mirage painted in a desert scheme presented at the Base Aérienne 133 Nancy-Ochey, home of the EC3/3 Ardennes, on Mar. 1, 2017, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the air raid against a Libyan air defense radar at Ouadi Doum, Chad.

The Thunderbirds over the skies of RAF Fairford. The team suffered an incident when a two-seater flipped over after landing at Dayton International Airport in Ohio on Jun. 23.

Image credit: Alessandro Fucito

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Thunderbird F-16D Ground Accident in Ohio, Global Hawk Drone Crashes in California.

RQ-4 Long Range RPV From Beale AFB Crashes in Mountains, Thunderbirds F-16D Crashes In Runway Rollover.

In two separate, unrelated incidents a U.S. Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team flipped over after landing at Dayton International Airport in Ohio and a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance drone has crashed on a ferry mission from Edwards Air Force Base back to its home base at Beale AFB in California.

The Thunderbird F-16D involved in the crash is a two-seat variant often used for orientation and public relations flights with two people on board, a Thunderbird pilot and guest of the team.

There is a report that the second person on the Thunderbird F-16D may have been an enlisted Thunderbird maintenance team member. Enlisted members of the Thunderbird team are sometimes flown for orientation and media purposes. Reports from the crash scene suggest one of the persons in the aircraft was waving to emergency personnel from inside the aircraft. Because the aircraft came to rest upside down the canopy could not immediately be opened. Rescue personnel were on scene immediately following the accident.

In an official release on the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ Facebook page, the team’s social media liaison wrote, “The United States Air Force Thunderbirds were conducting a single-ship familiarization flight on Friday June 23, 2017. Upon landing there was a mishap at the Dayton International Airport with an F-16D Fighting Falcon at approximately 12:20 p.m. Emergency services are on the scene. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Although no official cause of the accident has been released, weather may have been a factor. As of 1:00 p.m. local time weather websites for the area reported thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning with wind gusts up to 23 M.P.H.

A Thunderbird F-16D two-seat aircraft flipped over while on the ground at Dayton International Airport today in preparation for an airshow there this weekend. (Photo: WHIO-TV via Facebook)

On Jun. 2, 2016, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 crashed shortly after the demo team had performed a flyover at the annual Air Force graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs. The pilot managed to eject before the aircraft crash landed in a field not far from Peterson AFB, Colorado. The cause of the F-16CM #6 crash was found in “a throttle trigger malfunction and inadvertent throttle rotation.”

In an unrelated incident a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance drone had crashed on a ferry mission from Edwards Air Force Base back to its home base at Beale AFB in California on Jun. 21. Media reports said the remotely piloted vehicle was from the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale and was on a routine flight from Edwards Air Force Base. The aircraft went down near Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada mountains at approximately 1:45 p.m. PST on Wednesday, June 21.

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is a key strategic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset for the U.S. Air Force. It is a long range, long duration surveillance asset. The RQ-4 uses synthetic aperture radar to “see through” overcast and nighttime conditions to provide precise imagery of terrain features. A series of infra-red and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors provide imagery and spectrum analysis of targets from the RQ-4. Some analysts compare the mission and performance of the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk to the manned TR-2/U-2 long range, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. There may be as few as four of the RQ-4s operating from Beale AFB.

A file photo of a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk long range surveillance remotely piloted vehicle. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

 

Famous “Miracle On The Hudson” Pilot Takes VIP Ride in Thunderbirds F-16

“Sully” Soars with Thunderbirds.

One of the most celebrated pilots in history, former U.S. Airways airline Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, returned to his Air Force roots when he took the rear seat in a U.S. Air Force F-16D Fighting Falcon for a VIP flight at Travis AFB in Solano County, California last week.

The Thunderbirds were at Travis Air Force Base in California for the Wings Over Solano Air Show during the May 5-6 weekend.

Former Capt. Sullenberger flew as back-seater in Thunderbird 7, a two-seat F-16D with Thunderbird Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh as pilot in command. Lt. Col. Walsh of Long Island, New York is a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He has flown as an instructor at the European F-16 Weapons School, Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands. Lt. Col. Walsh also has over 500 hours of combat flying experience.

Former Capt. Sullenberger is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a former F-4D Phantom II pilot. He has also flown as the Blue Force mission commander in Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III and his F-4D Phantom II (Credit: Sullenberger)

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is, of course, best known for his remarkable airmanship on Jan. 15, 2009 when he experienced a rare double engine outage due to birdstrike in an Airbus A320 operating as U.S. Airways flight 1549. As pilot in command of the flight he declared an emergency and made a first-ever “dead stick” (no power) landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers and crew on board. There were no fatalities or serious injuries in the emergency ditching.

U.S. Airways Flight 1549 after successful emergency water landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. (Associated Press)

The accident has been widely publicized in media and “Captain Sully” rightfully lauded as a heroic figure who personifies the cool temperament and technical professionalism of experienced aviators.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds provide publicity flights to noteworthy persons and key influencers as a way to spread the message of pride, professionalism and dedication about the hundreds of thousands of Airmen serving at home and abroad and to inspire everyone to achieve excellence in their endeavors. In 2012, “Sully” flew with the Blue Angels.

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Blue Angels F/A-18s Make Contact And “Swap Paint” During Flyover: Pilots Land Aircraft Safely.

Joint Flyover Last Wednesday With USAF Thunderbirds Nearly Ends in Disaster.

A rare joint flyover last Wednesday, Apr. 26, with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds nearly ended in calamity when two of the Blue Angels’ F/A-18 Hornets momentarily touched while flying in formation causing minor damage to both aircraft. The two aircraft landed without incident following the collision.

According to a statement released by U.S. Navy Blue Angels spokesperson Lt. Joe Hontz and published in the Navy Times, “Two of the jets in the Blue Angel Delta formation encountered unexpected wake turbulence,” Hontz said, “causing a very brief and minor contact between the aircraft.”

The Blue Angels’ Boeing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft were flying in the six aircraft “delta” formation, an arrowhead arrangement of the four aircraft diamond formation combined with the two solo aircraft flying in outer trailing positions of the four-plane diamond.

Blue Angel Solos perform an opposing pass.

The Navy Times reported that Lt. Hontz said, “It is a testament to the training of the pilots that this incident remained very benign. The Blue Angels train in an environment where they fly extremely close — inches away from one another — and are fully prepared to respond and recover should minor contact occur.”

Even a small contact between two combat jets may have catastrophic consequences considered the velocities and energy involved.

An unnamed spokesperson added, “The aircraft required minor maintenance following the ‘paint-swap’ but are currently back in service.” The term “paint swap” was coined in American NASCAR stock car racing to describe when two racecars touch and rub paint onto each other from a minor collision.

The two pilots involved in the incident were not named in official press releases but are reported as cleared to continue flying demonstrations. They performed this past weekend during routine flight demonstrations at the MCAS Beaufort Airshow on April 29-30.

This 2017 incident follows an unusual number of precision jet demonstration team accidents from the same period in 2016 when four crashes on four separate jet teams occurred in only seven days. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Swiss Patrouille Suisse team and the Russian Knights all suffered accidents during this time.

Among these, the crash of a Blue Angel F/A-18 during practice for a weekend airshow, took the life of U.S. Marine Captain Jeff Kuss, the Blue Angel number 6 pilot flying in the solo position. An official accident investigation revealed that Capt. Kuss, a highly-experienced FA-18 pilot, had “transitioned from the high-performance climb to the Split S [maneuver] too low and too fast, and by not deselecting his afterburners during the maneuver, he continued to accelerate. The net effect of these deviations was that the aircraft was simply too low and too fast to avoid impacting the ground.”

Hopefully this reportedly minor incident will be the last similar incident for the 2017 season and we will not see a repeated high frequency of accidents this season.

In our story about the fourth incident, we commented: “What’s the odds of four incidents occurring to four display teams in one week? It’s surely an unlucky period.”

Popular Mechanics aviation journalist Kyle Mizokami wrote about the 2016 incidents, “The timing of the four [2016] crashes, all within a seven-day period and two days with two apiece, is a wildly improbable coincidence.”

Update: here’s a video allegedly showing the moment of contact and the “break” between the aircraft: https://www.facebook.com/tim.tisdale.9/videos/10154774271204825/

Image credit: Tom Demerly. Top image shows the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in the “Delta” six-aircraft formation (file photo)