The True Meaning of Showoff

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels’ and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ crew present exemplary skill, writes Karen Reinhardt.


The responsibility of the Blue Angels’ and the Thunderbirds’ crewmembers is to practice over and over and over again, numerous training maneuvers, while performing with complete precision, talent and skill, providing an unforgettable experience for every audience they encounter. But the teams do not haul their own ground support or AGE, so what about logistics, such as tools, ground support equipment, maintenance and transportation fees?

The Blue Angels’ and Thunderbirds’ show coordinator begins working several months in advance with the air show coordinator at each location to set everything up.

It’s a no-brainer as far as what equipment is needed because both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds manuals are very specific and detailed, according to Julie Dacey, Airshow Director/Coordinator of the Southern Wisconsin AirFEST in Janesville, Wis. “Things as small as a can of spray paint to as huge as the hydraulic power units are listed in the manual,” says Dacey. And whether the show is at a civilian or a military base, the same equipment is required, however, not every base, particularly the commercial ones, are outfitted with the necessary equipment, which is strictly military-specific. “It’s mandatory for their show, if you don’t have, or are unable to obtain the equipment in the manual, they may be unable to support your event,” says Dacey.

One year when Dacey hosted the Thunderbirds, they had seven flatbed trucks of ground support equipment trucked in from neighboring bases. But it’s not as simple as just getting on the horn, calling those military bases, and asking for equipment. “You have to establish a relationship with those bases, getting them to loan you the equipment and support you,” says Dacey. “Because while it’s important for [the military bases] to support the team, it’s not their number-one priority.” Dacey gave an example with a situation they ran into this past summer. “In the past, we have always utilized Truax Field in Madison, Volk Field at Fort Campbell, also located in Wisconsin, in support of the show and military participants,” says Dacey. “But this year, because of strategic exercises and deployments, which took precedence over airshow support—this created limited availability of equipment that had been confirmed at an earlier date so in addition to these two bases, the Duluth National Guard, located 300 miles north, was also called on to truck in a portion of the equipment.” As for fees; transportation fees for the equipment are sometimes assessed to the show, but trade-outs in tickets, activities and recognition at the show are common protocol. And there is a nominal fee ($12,000 in 2005) to have the teams perform in an air show according to Dacey, simply to offset their traveling expenses.

Once the teams have the equipment required, they handle their own maintenance, however, the Janesville Jet Center and most other Air Show Operators are responsible in getting the fuel trucks to the team as needed.

There are six jets in the Thunderbirds’ show and for a high altitude show on a clear day, each jet requires approximately 800 gallons of gas. The teams perform their own fueling, but it requires manpower from the base to get the fuel trucks to and from the center of operations. Not to mention the manpower needed for ticketing, security, hospitality, providing meals, etc. “For the entire show,” says Dacey, “our volunteer manpower is a total of around 250 over the course of the weekend.” Yet where there is a show with the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels, aviation enthusiasts appear from far and wide, almost begging to come to the event and help with the show.


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