America Strong: Blue Angels, Thunderbirds to conduct multi-city flyovers

In a show of national solidarity, the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will conduct a series of multi-city flyovers over the next two weeks.

America Strong is a collaborative salute from the Navy and Air Force to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re excited to fly over cities across America as our way of saying thanks to the healthcare workers, first responders, and all the people who selflessly run into the breach working to keep America strong,” said Gen. Dave Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations. “This is also our way of showing that we are all in this together and that America’s spirit will prevail.”

The two demonstration teams will fly over areas of the country hardest hit by COVID-19, and individual team flights will occur every one-to-two days until mid-May. The first of these scheduled flyovers was April 28 when the two teams flew formation flights over New York City, Newark and Trenton in New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Penn.

The first of these scheduled flyovers was April 28 when the two teams flew formation flights over New York City, Newark and Trenton in New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Penn.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over Colorado April 18, 2020. (Air Force photograph)

“We are incredibly honored to have the opportunity to salute those working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, we are in awe of your strength and resilience,” said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, U.S. Navy Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader. “Thank you to all of those in essential industries keeping our nation moving forward. We will get through this. We are all in this together.

The Air Force and Navy have partnered with local governments and media outlets to help ensure spectators follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines. Both teams are also implementing various measures to maintain personnel and community safety. This includes air-to-air refueling during transit and no scheduled stops en route to reduce potential exposure to the virus.

“We are truly excited to take to the skies with our Navy counterparts for a nation-wide tribute to the men and women keeping our communities safe.” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbird 1 and mission commander for the flyover. “We hope to give Americans a touching display of American resolve that honors those serving on the frontline of our fight with COVID-19.”

The Blue Angels, based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and Thunderbirds, based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., typically fly at more than 30 air shows each year to demonstrate American military aviation. This year, both teams have been forced to cancel many performances in response to Department of Defense direction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

While America Strong will showcase Department of Defense support to healthcare workers, first responders, military, essential employees, and aims to unite all Americans in the fight against COVID-19, it also fulfills critical training requirements for both teams. Pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency. These flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers.

In order to reach the maximum number of Americans, some portions of America Strong will feature only the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, while others will include both teams flying in their signature Delta formations simultaneously.

More dates and times will be posted when available.

The teams welcome and encourage viewers to tag the flyover on social media with the hashtag #AmericaStrong.

There has been some criticism concerning the costs involved. Officials pointed out that money had already been appropriated for the current air show season — money that, at this time, is not being used. As anyone who has experience with the military budget procedures is well aware, that money could be used elsewhere, but it is difficult to move funds appropriated for one area to be moved to another, and would probably require Congressional approval.

While the 2020 air show season is on hold, pilots of both teams have continued to fly in order to maintain proficiency requirements. It is important to remember that service members assigned to the demonstration teams are still active duty members of the U.S. military and, as such, must maintain their real-world military readiness levels.

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