Battleland

Grounded: Blue Angels and Thunderbirds

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Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson / USAF

You knew that was coming, right? Just didn’t think the Navy and Air Force would have enough sense of humor about it to make it effective April 1.

The Air Force Thunderbirds, here, are the precision flyboys who put their F-16s through amazing maneuvers and thrill aviation fans around the country each year. The Navy’s Blue Angels, here, do the same thing in their F-18s. (Somehow, it’s just not gonna be the same in a decade when they’re both flying F-35s…assuming the Air Force can’t spare some F-22s).

Alas, it also costs about $10 million annually to keep the Thunderbirds flying – money the Air Force says it doesn’t have, seeing as the military has to cut $43 billion – about 8% — from its budget between now and Oct 1. And that $10 million doesn’t include salaries and the cost of flying (the Air Force says it does include “airlift, travel, marketing, life support, and other operating expenses”).

“The implementation of across-the-board cuts in federal spending has caused the curtailment of the Thunderbirds 2013 show schedule,” the Thunderbirds say on their website. “Effective April 1, all of the team’s performances have been cancelled.”

The Thunderbirds planned to fly at more than 60 demonstrations at 38 locations between March and November. Lieutenant Colonel Greg Moseley, chief Thunderbirder, says the squadron’s mission will continue, even though the 130-person team will not be travelling after March.

“Sequestration temporarily limits our ability to travel, but it doesn’t stop us from reaching out within our community to tell the Air Force story,” he told his public-affairs officer, Major Darrick Lee. “We still have an obligation to educate people about our great Air Force and the incredible things our Airmen do.”

Both precision flying teams are nifty recruiting tools, even if only a fraction of a sliver of a slice of Air Force and Navy personnel actually pilot aircraft.

But grounding the six-plane Thunderbird fleet does free up 1,520 flights for combat training, Air Force officials say. It takes 36 such flights to make a garden-variety basic pilot combat-ready.

Bottom line: 42 more Air Force pilots good to go to war because of the Thunderbird grounding.

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