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Gazette Premium Content Budget cuts ground Thunderbirds for AFA graduation

TOM ROEDER Updated: March 1, 2013 at 12:00 am

The Air Force Thunderbirds won’t roar overhead during the Air Force Academy’s 2013 graduation rites and other military flying teams will be grounded after April 1.

“Missing man” formations flown over funerals to honor Air Force dead are also on hiatus.

Automatic budgets cuts designed to eliminate $46 billion in defense spending this year are to blame, the Air Force said in a Friday news release .

The Air Force officially canceled the Thunderbirds schedule of shows for 2013 and banned other public aerial demonstrations as part of an austerity plan. The Navy has also pledged to eliminate its Blue Angels flying team in light of the “sequestration” cuts.

The Thunderbirds have rocketed above Colorado Springs annually, adding the ultimate climax to Air Force Academy graduation. As graduates toss their cadet uniform caps skyward, the Thunderbirds blast over Falcon Stadium at low-level in their F-16 single-engine jets

The Air Force is also eliminating flights used to honor the service’s dead.

Prominent Air Force burials often conclude with four aircraft flying low over the ceremony. One of the planes pulls into a vertical climb as the rest continue on course, in an aerial salute to the departed.

The ceremony flights got the ax because the Air Force is cutting flight training time by about 18 percent to save money.

“While we will protect flying operations in Afghanistan and other contingency areas, nuclear deterrence and initial flight training, roughly two-thirds of our active-duty combat Air Force units will curtail home station training,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said in a statement.

The cuts eliminated almost all of the Air Force’s aerial public relations efforts.

Heritage flights, which feature modern planes flying alongside historic, civilian-owned, warbirds were cut. So were “orientation flights” often used for recruiting and retention efforts.

The Thunderbirds and other demonstration units will continue to train outside the public eye this year and be ready for the spotlight if budget cuts are reversed, the Air Force said.

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