The Air Force Thunderbirds Commander, Lt. Col Jason Heard announced late Friday that the Thunderbirds will not perform Saturday at the Dayton Air Show following Friday’s crash that injured Pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves and Tactical Aircraft Maintainer Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cordova. Both men are in good condition at Miami Valley Hospital.
Aviation Director Terrence Slaybaugh said the top priority of the airport is to ensure crowd safety this weekend and help the Thunderbirds team process the incident.
"We're obviously very disappointed they won't fly [tomorrow]," Slaybaugh said. "We'll get through it."
Slaybaugh said the mishap was a "best-case scenario," with a quick response from emergency teams and no fatalities. The Dayton airport will work "arm in arm" with the military during its investigation into the accident.
Response teams are working to move the aircraft away from the accident site tonight, he said.
The Air Force Thunderbirds were expected to perform at the Vectren Dayton Air Show Saturday and Sunday for only the second time since 2013 when the team was grounded because of budget cuts.
Here’s what you need to know about the Thunderbirds:
1. The Thunderbirds fly six single-seat F-16C jets in aerobatic formation, but a seventh two-seat F-16D jet accompanied the team to Dayton to fly VIP and media riders prior to the air show. The team, which will perform at 36 locations this year, is based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and was last in Dayton in 2015.
The Thunderbirds jet mishap was the first major aviation related incident at the air show since the fatal crash of a wing walker and a pilot in front of thousands of horrified spectators June 22, 2013.
The Boeing Stearman biplane crash killed wing walker Jane Wicker, 45, and pilot Charlie Schwenker, 64, both Virginia-based air show performers.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the biplane crash was “pilot controlled flight into terrain.”
In 2007, show pilot Jim Leroy, 46, of Lake City, Fla., died after failing to maintain clearance from the ground during an acrobatic routine in a 400-horsepower Bulldog Pitts, the NTSB reported. The board also concluded “smoke oil” in the air where the performers flew was a factor in the crash at the Dayton Air Show.
2. The Thunderbirds fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which first entered service in 1979. The squadrons use “dated aircraft, generally older models” with the most modern aircraft reserved for frontline combat missions. F-16s each cost approximately $18.8 million.
3. Many of the Thunderbirds pilots have combat experience in the skies over Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
To be in the squadron can be quite “grueling” and physically “exhausting,” pilots say. The Thunderbirds have eight pilots, including six demonstration pilots, four support officers and more than 100 enlisted personnel.
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4. The Thunderbirds stated mission is to showcase the aircraft of the Air Force while highlighting the skills and professionalism of their pilots. They are also tasked with engaging in community outreach, bolstering military recruitment and strengthening morale and esprit de corps in the services.
The squadrons perform 75-minute shows, involving 40 aerial maneuvers, and will hold up to 80 shows in a “season,” which typically starts in March and ends in November.
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5. The Thunderbirds were launched in 1953. The deadliest accident in Thunderbirds history is the infamous “Diamond Crash” of 1983, which cost the lives of four Thunderbirds pilots. At the time, the Air Force concluded that a mechanical failure in one of the jets flying in the four-plane formation caused the deadly accident.
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