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USAF Thunderbirds soar over Mojave

The skies over Mojave were filled with excitement as three of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew over from their home base in Arizona. Mojave Air and Space Port/Rutan Field hosted the USAF’s Thunderbirds’ winter site selection team on Aug. 30, 2022.

My friend and aviation photographer, Jim Mumaw captured these fantastic photos of the Thunderbirds flying over Mojave.

The USAF Thunderbirds fly over the Mojave Air and Space Port, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph courtesy of Jim Mumaw)

According to a memo released by acting General Manager/CEO Tim Reid, “The mission of their visit was to evaluate the Airport and our facilities in consideration for hosting their winter training operations.”

The Thunderbirds’ selection team needed to perform an aerial site survey, which included two TFRs on that Tuesday: one from 11 a.m. to noon, and the second from 2:30-3:30 p.m. A TFR is a temporary Flight Restriction and are communicated to pilots through Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs). They restrict aircraft (including drones) from operating without permission in a certain area for a limited time.

Reid’s memo stated, “During both of these times they were engaged in aerial maneuvering to test and evaluate the airspace around Mojave Air and Space Port/Rutan Field. Due to the high speeds in which these maneuvers will be performed, MHV Class D airspace will be temporarily closed, with a TFR in place for five nautical miles and up to 17,999-feet mean sea level.

“We are excited at Mojave Air and Space Port to have the Thunderbirds consider us for their winter training operations,” Reid said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to support the U.S. Air Force position, while at the same time supporting our community by bringing in more business, but more importantly inspiring and encouraging our future aviation professionals.”

One Mojave resident said, “I was outside changing tires on my car and they flew right over my house — low and fast! It was awesome!”

An aviation photographer at the end of Runway 30 said, “How cool is this? The Thunderbirds are over Mojave!”

Most residents were thrilled to see the world’s premier Air Force demonstration team in the skies over Mojave. Some complained, but need to know that there are Avigation Easement Laws that give aircraft the right to fly over private property. Avigation easement is an easement or right of overflight in the airspace above or in the vicinity of a particular property. It also includes the right to create such noise or other effects as may result from the lawful operation of aircraft in such airspace. Avigation easement permits aircraft approaching an airport to fly at low elevations above private property.

I received an email from a friend in Mojave who said, “Tell the Thunderbirds that they can fly over my house anytime, as low as they want! I love it! I agree with my friend, I love it too — it’s the ‘SOUND OF FREEDOM!’

The USAF Thunderbirds fly over the Mojave Air and Space Port, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph courtesy of Jim Mumaw)

Thunderbird #3 was flown by Capt. Lauren Schlichting, who was inspired to be a fighter pilot when she was in the second grade in Minnesota, at the early age of eight! An astronaut came to visit her school and as she said, ‘planted that seed’ to want to be in the U.S. Air Force and fly fighter jets.

She didn’t come from a military family, so her mother was shocked when she came home and announced, “I’m going to join the Air Force and be a fighter pilot!’

When thinking about how she was inspired by hearing the astronaut talk, she said, “Hopefully I can do that with someone else one day,”

The Thunderbirds perform all over the world displaying the pride, precision, and professionalism the U.S. Air Force represents. Through school visits, air shows, and flyovers, they aim to excite and inspire. In addition to showcasing the elite skills all pilots must possess, the Thunderbirds demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The Thunderbirds were formed in 1953 and have been performing for sixty-nine years. The first aircraft used by the Thunderbirds was a Republic F-84G Thunderjet.

The second aircraft flown by the Thunderbirds was the swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak.

The USAF Thunderbirds have been flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon since 1983, nearly 40 years.

Everyone at Mojave Air and Space Port/Rutan Field is looking forward to hearing back from the Thunderbirds evaluation team. Would be an exciting opportunity for our community if they decided to come here for their winter practice site.

The USAF Thunderbirds fly over the Mojave Air and Space Port, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph courtesy of Jim Mumaw)
(Air Force photograph)
(Air Force photograph)
Harald Smith, Harold Smith MASP Director of Fuels stands with Capt. Lauren Schlichting, Thunderbird #3. (Courtesy photograph)
Three USAF Thunderbirds F-16s fly over the Mojave Air and Space Port, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph by Harold Smith, MASP Director of Fuels)
Three USAF Thunderbirds F-16s visited the Mojave Air and Space Port Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph by Harold Smith, MASP Director of Fuels)
Three USAF Thunderbirds F-16s visited the Mojave Air and Space Port Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph by Harold Smith, MASP Director of Fuels)
Ground crew taxi in one of the USAF Thunderbirds F-16s at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Aug. 30, 2022. (Photograph by Harold Smith, MASP Director of Fuels)
The three USAF Thunderbirds aircraft that visited the Mojave Air and Space Port Aug. 30, 2022, sit on the MASP flightline. (Photograph by Harold Smith, MASP Director of Fuels)

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