Air Force finds funds to let Thunderbirds soar again

The Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s iconic air demonstration squadron, will soon take the skies again, after being temporarily grounded by defense budget cuts in April.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team performs stunts for the crowd during the open house and air show at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington on Sunday, May 22, 2011.   Drew Angerer/The Washington Times
Drew Angerer/The Washington Times
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team performs stunts for the crowd during the open house and air show at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington on Sunday, May 22, 2011.

The decision comes after Congress approved a Pentagon request to reprogram about $7.5 billion from lower priority programs to more urgent ones.

As a result, the Air Force has $208 million to restart about 16 combat units that had been grounded, such as the 1st Fighter Wing based at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

“The resumption of flying units in the combat Air Force represents the Air Force’s commitment to current combat readiness,” said spokesman Vic Johnston for the 633rd Air Base Wing.

The other units are fighter, bomber, and airborne warning and control system squadrons. The decision was made Friday, and operations can start Monday, but will take a few days to implement, Mr. Johnston said.

“Combat readiness is not a light switch we can turn on and off. It’s going to take some time, effort and expense to get back up to speed,” he said.

An Air Force spokesman said the Thunderbirds’ demonstrations won’t start until next calendar year. The squadron, which flies F-16 Falcon fighter jets, is based at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.

The restoration of funds means they can start training again and be ready to perform a limited number of demonstrations in 2014, the spokesman said.

“It takes a lot of training to do what they do, and a lot of skill,” he said.

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