COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Thunderbirds honored Colorado’s front line COVID-19 responders with a series of community flyovers following the U.S. Air Force Academy’s commencement flyover Saturday.
A formation of eight F-16 Fighting Falcons flying out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada recognized the Air Force Academy’s Class of 2020 in Colorado Springs with a graduation flyover.
The ceremony usually takes place in late May but was moved up and closed to the public due to COVID-19. Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address.
Pence originally decided to give the commencement remotely, but announced Tuesday that he would flying out to Colorado to give the address in person.
“The Thunderbirds are thrilled to continue on a tradition of culminating the Air Force Academy graduation and welcoming our newest second lieutenants into our Air Force,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader. “While the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed many of the celebrations that graduating cadets usually enjoy, we are proud to provide this one defining moment for these young American’s lives as they become officers in the world’s greatest Air Force.”
PHOTOS: AF Thunderbirds soar across Colorado
Following the ceremony, the Thunderbirds conducted a series of flyovers across Colorado communities to honor healthcare workers, first responders, military members and other essential personnel who are working on the front lines to combat the coronavirus.
“Our team is honored to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the countless Coloradans working every day to support their communities during this difficult time in our nation,” said Caldwell. “We want Coloradans to look up from their homes and enjoy the display of American resolve and pride while keeping frontline responders in their hearts.”
After a delay caused by rainy, cloudy weather, the Thunderbirds’ flight path brought them over Greeley, Windsor, Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, the Denver metropolitan area, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Fort Carson and Pueblo.
To complete this unique series of flyovers, the Thunderbirds relied on aerial refueling support from a KC-135 tanker aircraft from McConnell Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base extending their range for the duration of the mission.
“Just like in combat operations across the globe, the Thunderbirds rely on tanker support to expand our reach and flexibility to conduct complex operations like this,” said Caldwell. “It’s a team effort that truly represents the pride, precision, and professionalism of the 685,000 total force Airmen of the U.S. Air Force.”
The Thunderbirds discouraged anyone from traveling to landmarks, hospitals or gathering in large groups to view the flyover. Residents were encouraged to tag the Thunderbird team on social media with photos and videos of their formation with the hashtag #AFThunderbirds and #AFSalutes.