The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds honored “frontline COVID-19 responders and essential workers” with formation flights over Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta on May 2.
“America Strong is a way for both teams to show appreciation to the thousands of doctors, nurses, first responders and essential workers out there serving on the frontline, day in and day out,” said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, U.S. Navy Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader for the flyover. “This is an extraordinary and unprecedented time but we will get through this. We are all in this together.”
“We are honored to fly over these cities in a display of national unity and support for the men and women keeping our communities safe,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbird commander and lead pilot. “These flyovers are a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the entire Department of Defense to the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The teams completed an air-to-air refueling over the nation’s capital before descending to pass over Fort McHenry, which successfully defended the Baltimore harbor from an attack by the British navy during the War of 1812. Socially distanced crowds in parks and green space turned their heads upward to watch the unfamiliar sight of two military demonstration teams, their six-ship diamond formations in close proximity and trailing airshow smoke, fly overhead. Downtown residents watched from balconies, and spectators stood on the waterfront and the walkways of several bridges.
The formation flew north over hospitals in Towson, made a left one-eighty and turned again to pass eastbound over downtown Baltimore, then turned left again to loop over the Essex and Middle River areas before rolling out on the southwesterly heading that took them to Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C., thousands of residents took advantage of a balmy spring day to go outside and witness the combined flyover. Smoke from the 12 fighters signaled their entry to the National Mall over the U.S. Capitol as spectators looked skyward from the green space. The Washington Monument stood tall as the two flights flew toward the Lincoln Memorial.
Hundreds more observers gathered at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial overlooking the city to view the spectacle. As the formation flew over the statue commemorating World War II servicemen raising a flag on Iwo Jima, the face-masked spectators—many with their children in tow—clapped and shouted support.
A sweeping north turn followed the Potomac River and put the 12 pilots on a flight path toward Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where they saluted hospital workers and fighting COVID-19. The formation flight then flew west toward Virginia and circled back for another pass over the nation’s monuments before exiting to the northeast and eventually a turn south toward Atlanta.
After more than a month of planning, coordination, and practice, the teams combined to fly over New York City; Newark and Trenton, New Jersey; and Philadelphia on April 28. The Blue Angels will overfly Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and New Orleans on May 6. Overflights typically are announced a couple days in advance on the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels websites.
The teams typically fly at more than 30 airshows each year to demonstrate U.S. military aviation, but many scheduled performances have already been canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to honoring health care workers and other first responders, Operation America Strong also fulfills critical training requirements for both teams. Like all other aviators, the teams’ pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency. The Department of Defense said these flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers.