Thunderbirds to return for Academy’s graduation

There was no show last May because of sequestration

Courtesy photo
The Thunderbirds will perform at the Air Force Academy’s May 28, 2014, graduation.
Danny Summers
Posted

The Thunderbirds will spread their wings over the skies of Colorado Springs next May to help celebrate the Air Force Academy Class of 2014 celebration.

The Academy made the announcement this week that the Thunderbirds — officially known as the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron — will perform at the May 28 ceremony after a one-year hiatus because of the sequestration.

“While we’re excited to have the Thunderbirds back for our Class of 2014’s graduation, we’re equally excited that their appearance at our graduation ceremony gives the local community a front-row seat to a Thunderbirds air show,” said John Van Winkle, a spokesman with the Academy’s public affairs department. “A Thunderbirds air show is something that most cities are lucky to get once every few years if they’ve got a major air show or similar event hosted in a large community.

“So to give our neighbors a front-row seat to the best aerial demonstration in America is something special, each and every time.”

The Thunderbirds have been performing air shows for 60 years. Van Winkle said the Academy does not keep data on how many times the Thunderbirds have performed at Air Force graduations.

“We do track speakers, dates, number of grads, etc.,” Van Winkle said. “We don’t track

graduation sites that well, either.

“The first graduation was in Clune Arena, so no flyover. I’ve been here since 2001, and at every graduation since 2001, and have always had the Thunderbirds flyover, except for 2013 due to sequestration.”

Graduations have been held in Falcon Stadium, for the most part, since the early 1960s.

Last year, in lieu of no Thunderbirds, there was a flyover of the World War II aircraft for the Class of 2013 graduation.

“That was outstanding,” Van Winkle said. “But I’ve always been big into that era’s aircraft.”

The best seats for this air show are at Falcon Stadium. But many people find great locations across Interstate 25 from the Academy.

For a few days leading up to the graduation show, the Thunderbirds practice their fly over all around the area, including Woodland Park.

The Thunderbirds team is slated to perform 66 demonstrations at 34 locations in 2014. The team will start its tour at the opening of the Tournament of Roses Parade Jan. 1 in Pasadena.

The announcement of the Thunderbirds schedule confirms the Defense Department’s commitment to supporting community engagement.

Van Winkle said that last October, in an internal memo to military service chiefs, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stressed a continuing need to maintain military demonstration teams.

“Community and public outreach is a crucial Departmental activity that reinforces trust and confidence in the United States Military and in its most important asset — people,” Hagel asserted in his memo. “It is our obligation to sustain that trust well into the future.”

The resumption of demonstrations is good news for the squadron’s Airmen, who normally spend up to 220 days a year traveling.

“We’re glad to be back,” Lt. Col. Greg Moseley, the Thunderbirds’ commander and lead pilot said in a statement. “But, right now, we’re focused on training.

“While we’re excited to know we’ll be able to tell the Air Force story on the road, we’re completely focused on ensuring we have a safe show season.”

The Thunderbirds were formed in 1953. The 2014 season marks the 32nd year the squadron has performed in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Assigned to Air Combat Command, the squadron is composed of nearly 130 Airmen serving in more than two dozen Air Force job specialties.