Air Tattoo a "Big Deal" For USAF Thunderbirds
Published: 14 Jul 2017
The red, white and blue painted fighter jets of the Thunderbirds air demonstration team are set to rock the Gloucestershire skies as the Royal International Air Tattoo helps to mark the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force.
The team flew in to Fairford from their home, Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas ready for their first Air Tattoo in a decade.
"This is a really big deal to come to an event as significant as the Royal International Air Tattoo, it is truly a global international stage," said Lt. Col. Jason Heard, the commander and leader of the Thunderbirds.
As well as marking 70 years since the formation of the USAF, the team are also marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. airmen in Europe. It was back in 1917, when American pilots crossed the Atlantic to assist the allies in World War I.
"There is a very significant partnership between the UK and US and Europe, so with these two anniversaries, it culminates here at RIAT to make it a very special show," said Heard.
"When you look at the performers here at RIAT, the Red Arrows and the aircraft from all over the world all at one show, it's just fantastic, you don't see that anywhere else in the world," he adds.
Unlike other display teams, the Thunderbirds use a frontline fighter in the form of the supersonic-speed capable Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon.
And although the jets are painted in a high-visibility red, white and blue colour scheme, the aircraft could be made ready for operations in 48 hours if needed.
Each of the Thunderbirds' elite pilots have at least 1,000 flight hours under their belts having previously flown a front-line combat aircraft.
"We are demonstrating combat aircraft to the public and what they are capable of."
The six aircraft are put through a range of dramatic manoeuvres and close formations where the aircraft fly just feet apart. But the Thunderbirds are also famed for their manoeuvres on the ground as they are in the air. The immaculately turned out ground team perform synchronised checks of the aircraft as they are prepared for flight.
"Our maintainers put on a show line performance and the precision of that is equal to that they will see in the air...I hope people will take the chance to walk over and watch our start-up procedures 30 minutes before take-off."
As well as displaying at Fairford on all three days of the Air Tattoo, the Thunderbirds will also help to celebrate U.S.-French relations by taking part in the Bastille Day flypast over Paris on July 14.
After the Air Tattoo, the Thunderbirds will head back across the Atlantic to take part in an airshow in Great Falls, Montana.