AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 47

FIRST LOOK |

A new act for Thunderbirds
U.S. Air Force demo squadron launches redesigned show
B Y D AV E H I R S C H M A N

THE U.S. AIR FORCE THUNDERBIRDS have redesigned their airshow
demonstrations to present a shorter, tighter, more intense show
that " tells a story, " team members said.
" We started with the [spectator] experience in mind, " said
Thunderbird lead pilot Col. John Caldwell, who sought to make
the performances " more coherent, " and not just a collection of
individual maneuvers.
The new routine is meant to build in complexity over time
and display the USAF's pride, precision, and patriotism. It
starts big with all six Thunderbird F-16s flying a series of vertical maneuvers. Then the pilots shift to close formations near
the crowd.
High-speed, crossing maneuvers from multiple directions
are next, followed by a graceful interlude in which all six singleengine jets fly together with as little as 18 inches of separation
between them.
" The performance builds in complexity over time, " said Maj.
Zane Taylor, who flies the right-wing position. " Every maneuver
has a purpose, and the whole performance tells a story. "
The Thunderbirds consulted former team members as well as
the Walt Disney Co. and the International Council of Airshows in
developing the new routine. They shortened the ground portion

of each performance and incorporated more hand signals, eliminated six maneuvers, and trimmed a total of 20 minutes from what
used to be a 90-minute show.
" It's easy to add to a show, " Caldwell said. " It's hard to cut
things out. "
The changes are among the most significant in the demonstration team's history. The first was when the jet team was formed
in 1953, and the second was in 1983 when members began flying F-16s.
The group also made changes in its " low " and " flat " shows to
better align them with performances flown in good weather, and
all of them contain new music and narration.
Each performance contains the traditional four-ship " diamond " formation and two opposing solos. And don't let the
sweeping, graceful maneuvers lull you into complacency.
The group's signature " sneak pass " in which an F-16 comes up
from behind the crowd in afterburner at nearly the speed of sound
is still part of the repertoire.
" If you liked the sneak pass, " Taylor said, " you'll love the new
show. "
EMAIL dave.hirschman@aopa.org

aopa.org/pilot AOPA PILOT | 47


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AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover1
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Contents
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