The Air Force Thunderbirds Say They Are Done With America Strong Flyovers

The team says the recent flyover of Southern California was their last even though it was thought more were originally in the works.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


Following their recent flight over Southern California, the United States Air Force aerial demonstration team, better known as the Thunderbirds, posted a message on social media saying that flight would be the last of their "America Strong" tour. It isn't clear how long this had been planned as it was not announced as such until after the mission took place, and, by most accounts, the team was originally slated to make appearances over the Pacific Northwest, and potentially other western locales, as part of the campaign that aimed to support those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is clearly no longer be the case.

Thunderbirds Facebook Page

We don't know what changed, but the team did experience a scare during their last flight over Los Angeles County, which you can read about here. Beyond that, it's possible that feedback the team was getting, potentially from future locales, resulted in the decision to not proceed with the additional flyovers, or that there was some other reason led to the decision. 

The flyovers were somewhat controversial from there start. The perception that the government was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for each military flyover sortie while first responders struggled to obtain personal protection equipment, laid-off Americans flocked to food banks for sustenance, and small businesses struggled to obtain government loads was hard to overcome in some cases. Videos of harsh criticism of the flights have gone viral, most notably one by a doctor who lambasted the aerial displays:

At the same time, many hospital workers seemed to really appreciate the show of support and the brief break from the situation they were facing inside the hospital's walls:

As we explained before these flyovers were even formally announced, the teams are already budgeted to fly and, just like if their jets were painted gray, they have to keep up their skills. With the air show season pretty much canceled for the foreseeable future, the flyovers at least gave the team a way to reach Americans with the airtime they were already budgeted. Still, this is a hard concept to grasp for some who have no knowledge of how military aviation works.

The fact of the matter is that these flyovers are extremely complex and challenging aerial feats to execute. The aircraft, flying in formation and flying at hundreds of miles per hour, have to navigate highly complex and tight routes through airspace that is far less sanitized and familiar than those used for individual flyovers and air show demonstrations. So it's not like these pilots, all of which are combat capable, are just wasting their time up there on a joy ride. Quite the opposite actually. Regardless, the optics can be confusing for some during such a challenging time.

Who knows, maybe the team will spool the America Strong tour up again sometime in the future, but for now, it is clear that the T-birds have returned to their nest at Nellis Air Force Base for the foreseeable future. 

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