The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, both elite flight demonstration squadrons, are putting on a show over U.S. cities in support of healthcare workers fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyone who has ever spent time in uniform knows about how the services tend to pick on one another. Each branch has its stereotypes, and like squabbling siblings, those stereotypes tend to come up often in friendly ribbing. But, like siblings, these branches are fiercely protective of their family: their sister branches and the nation they defend.
When the going gets tough, you can always count on Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen to set their friendly bickering aside and devote themselves to the mission at hand. Often, that mission includes going into combat, where they rely on one another for survival — but this time, elite pilots from two of America’s military branches teamed up to fly over a different kind of war zone: the battle between America’s healthcare workers and the spread of the coronavirus.
Thank you @BlueAngels and @AFThunderbirds for honoring all those who are heroically serving on the front lines of the city's response to COVID-19 #AmericaStrong#Inthistogether pic.twitter.com/R4xNJoveMf
— FDNY (@FDNY) April 28, 2020
On Tuesday, six members of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team manned their F-16 Fighting Falcons and joined up with six pilots from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, aboard their F/A-18 Hornets. At noon, the two teams streaked through the skies above New York City, the hardest hit community since the COVID-19 pandemic reached American shores. From there it was on to Newark before heading to Trenton, New Jersey and then on to Philadelphia.
— Thunderbirds (@AFThunderbirds) April 27, 2020
“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,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, who serves as Thunderbird 1 and mission commander for the flyover, said in a statement.
The two teams are accustomed to flying in tight formations, but it’s not every day you’d see the elite pilots from these two branches flying side by side.
“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.
— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) April 28, 2020
Some have voiced concern over the decision to mount this morale-raising spectacle, pointing out that there could be other ways these branches could spend the money associated with these flights amid the ongoing pandemic, but the two branches issued a joint statement assuaging those concerns; pointing out that military pilots are required to log a certain number of flight hours per year, and that these flights are counting toward that training goal.
HONOR FROM ABOVE! 👏🇺🇸❤️ The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels honored front-line and essential workers with formation flights. Here's their flight over #NYC!#InThisTogether pic.twitter.com/GqpmUyf5Hx
— News12 (@News12) April 28, 2020
“Pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency. These flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers,” a joint Air Force/Navy press release confirms.
The Blue Angels, which are stationed in Pensacola, Florida, and the Thunderbirds, which are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, usually participate in as many as 30 air shows per year, most of which have since been cancelled.