Thunderbirds Take Winter Training On The Road

The U.S. Air Force's ‘Thunderbirds’ Air Demonstration Squadron has moved winter training to New Mexico and Arizona in order to give pilots more challenging flying environments.

The U.S. Air Force’s “Thunderbirds” Air Demonstration Squadron is conducting winter training in New Mexico and Arizona this month, marking the first off-station winter training session for the team.

Earlier this month, the squadron launched a two-week training session at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and is set to begin another two-week session in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, on January 24, according to a Thunderbirds spokesperson.

The Thunderbirds typically train from November through March. The decision to train off-site from their home base at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, was made in order to allow the team to practice in incrementally more difficult conditions, as well as to increase aerospace opportunity and flexibility for training, the Air Force said.

“It’s crucial that we take advantage of this unique opportunity to set the tone for our 2022 show season and future training seasons,” Lt. Col. Justin Elliott, Thunderbirds commander and leader, said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Justin “Astro” Elliott prepares to debrief after the team’s maiden winter training trip flight January 11. [Courtesy: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicolas Myers]

The two locations offer advantages in preparing for the variety of flight demonstration environments, Elliott said.

Spaceport America, where the Thunderbirds have been in training since January 10, offers 6,000 square miles of restricted airspace, has a 12,000-foot runway, and low population density. The New Mexico location also has sunshine and low humidity more than 90 percent of the year.

“These favorable conditions, along with entirely dedicated airspace, allow the team to hone the demonstration before moving on to more challenging flying conditions and time constraints like they might see during the show season,” the Air Force said.

The Ft. Huachuca location features 946 square miles of restricted airspace and three runways. 

“This location, with many mountains close by, will challenge the demonstration team in flight with different conditions, visuals, and a more rigid flying schedule like those they’ll see during the show season,” the Air Force said.

“These two locations are excellent training environments, each serving different purposes,” Elliott said. “Training in new and different environments will allow the team to exercise the necessary muscles to ensure our demonstration is precise despite changing conditions.”

After the training trip, the Thunderbirds are set to continue training with the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, at Naval Air Facility El Centro in California.

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