Thunderbirds Salute USAFA Graduates, Colorado Front-line COVID-19 Responders

PHOTO BY RICHARD HARO: A view of the Thunderbirds from the Loveland Visitors Center

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” honored Colorado’s front line COVID-19 responders with a series of community flyovers following the U.S. Air Force Academy’s commencement flyover on April 18, 2020.

A formation of eight F-16 Fighting Falcons flying out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada recognized the U.S. Air Force Academy’s class of 2020 in Colorado Springs with a graduation flyover, celebrating the Air Force’s newest leaders as they graduate and prepare to begin their careers across the Air Force.

“The Thunderbirds are thrilled to continue on a tradition of culminating the Air Force Academy graduation and welcoming our newest second lieutenants into our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander, and leader. “While the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed many of the celebrations that graduating cadets usually enjoy, we are proud to provide this one defining moment for these young American’s lives as they become officers in the world’s greatest Air Force.”

Following the ceremony, the Thunderbirds visited the sky over many Colorado communities. They were honoring healthcare workers, first responders, military members, and other essential personnel who are working on the front lines to combat the coronavirus.

PHOTO BY MATT DIERLAM: The Thunderbirds flew over Fort Collins on April 18, 2020, saluting First Responders and COVID-19 victims.

Families flocked to the streets in anticipation, following twitter feeds and maps released by the squadron. In Fort Collins, families and children practiced social distancing with their neighbors and clapped and hollered as the squadron passed with smoke over Poudre Valley Hospital.

“Our team is honored to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the countless Coloradans working every day to support their communities during this difficult time in our nation,” said Caldwell. “We want Coloradans to look up from their homes and enjoy the display of American resolve and pride while keeping frontline responders in their hearts.”

The Thunderbirds’ flight took them over Greeley, Windsor, Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, Denver metropolitan area, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Fort Carson, and Pueblo. Residents along the flight path heard a few seconds of jet noise as the aircraft pass overhead, along with the site of six high-performance fighter aircraft flying close in precise formation.

To complete this unique series of flyovers, the Thunderbirds relied on aerial refueling support from a KC-135 tanker aircraft from McConnell Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base extending their range for the duration of the mission.

“Just like in combat operations across the globe, the Thunderbirds rely on tanker support to expand our reach and flexibility to conduct complex operations like this,” said Caldwell. “It’s a team effort that truly represents the pride, precision, and professionalism of the 685,000 total force Airmen of the U.S. Air Force.”

Residents in these areas saw the flyover from the safety of their home-quarantine.

The Thunderbirds welcome and encourage viewers to tag the team on social media in photos and videos of their formation with the hashtag #AFThunderbirds and #AFSalutes.

For more information on the team visit www.afthunderbirds.com and follow @afthunderbirds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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