July 15, 2013 (by Maj Darrick B. Lee) - Temporary funding for flying hours has been restored, allowing the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron to resume training flights again through the end of fiscal year 2013.
The team will not resume aerial demonstrations previously scheduled for the 2013 calendar year.
Gen. Mike Hostage, Air Combat Command commander, announced July 15 the temporary restoration of flying hours that will be allocated to combat aircraft and crews across the command's operational and test units, including the Thunderbirds. Due to sequestration, the team cancelled participation in air shows and stopped flying in April.
While the return to the skies means a return to crucial training and development for Thunderbirds pilots and maintainers, the leader of the Combat Air Forces' fleet cautions that this is the beginning of the process, not the end.
"Since April, we've been in a precipitous decline with regard to combat readiness," Hostage said. "Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery."
The restoration of flying hours only addresses the next two and half months of flying up until Oct. 1. Lt.Col. Greg Moseley, commander and leader of the Thunderbirds, clarifies that the return to flying does not mean the team has been cleared to resume performing demonstrations. The team will resume training flights with the anticipation that it may be able to resume a limited number of aerial demonstrations next calendar year.
"We have a long road ahead of us and will take it one day at a time," Moseley said. "This is the first step in safely returning the squadron to a mission-ready status."
In an effort to maximize training while anticipating limited 2014 funding, ACC
has also announced an extension of the tour length for officers currently serving with the Thunderbirds. Moseley says the decision was difficult but necessary.
"It takes a significant amount of training to get our pilots qualified to safely execute with the team," Moseley said. "Faced with limited funding in the future, we have to take every opportunity to ensure we put on a safe demonstration. Capitalizing on the experience we currently have is the right thing to do from a safety perspective, and it's the right thing to do from a fiscal perspective."
The 12 officer positions on the team are two-year tours of duty. By design, the position openings are staggered, allowing the squadron to maintain continuity of experience and leadership. This year, Thunderbirds 1,3, 6 and 8 were hired. The Thunderbirds announced the selection of these new officers in April. The decision to keep the current team rescinds this hiring announcement; the officers currently serving on the team will serve a third year.
Thunderbirds fans in the Las Vegas area should see the red, white and blue jets take to the sky in the next few days.