Thunderbirds will soar over 2014 AFA graduation

By Erin Prater Published: December 18, 2013 | 4:50 pm 0

The Thunderbirds will return to the skies over the Air Force Academy this spring for the Class of 2014's graduation ceremony.

The May 28 graduation will be the demonstration squadron's only appearance in Colorado next year, the academy said Friday.

The team of F-16s was absent from this year's graduation ceremony because of "sequestration," automatic federal budget cuts that began this year when Congress didn't reach an accord over the federal deficit.

Traditionally, the Thunderbirds blast over Falcon Stadium as graduates toss their cadet uniform caps skyward.

The Thunderbirds' return is unlikely to directly affect tourism, said Amy Long, vice president of marketing and partnerships for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Tourists will associate the exciting and strong visual of the planes slicing through the airspace above the school with Colorado Springs, she said.

"It's just such a thrilling site to see the planes fly over at the exact minute the cadets throw their hats," Long said. "It's a wonderful culmination of their four years there and a celebration for everyone to enjoy."

The bureau will add the Thunderbirds' performance to its social media calendar and begin building buzz about the aerial demonstration this spring, she said.

William Thompson, president and CEO of the academy's Association of Graduates and a 1973 graduate of the academy, said he was thrilled to hear of the Thunderbirds' return.

"The Air Force Academy graduation ceremony is the culmination of four years of hard work and sacrifice as cadets become second lieutenants and begin their journey as leaders of character serving our nation," he said Friday in a statement released by the association.

"It's fantastic that everyone who attends the ceremony will once again be able to enjoy the incredible show that the Thunderbirds put on. They really symbolize the power and the teamwork of the world's greatest Air Force, which will someday be led by the newest members of the Long Blue Line."

At this year's graduation ceremony, nine World War II-era planes - two B-25J Mitchell bombers, two P-51D Mustang fighters, a P47D Thunderbolt fighter, a FG1D Corsair fighter, a P-40K Warhawk fighter, a FM2 Wildcat fighter and a TBM-3E Avenger bomber - provided a flyover courtesy of the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs and the Texas Flying Legends Museum of Houston.

The Thunderbirds are slated to perform 66 demonstrations at 34 locations across the country next year.

Their first public demonstration of the year will be Jan. 1 at the opening of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., according to an academy news release.

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