Thunderbirds flyover salutes those on frontlines of COVID-19

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

Fred and Fran Erickson

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds saluted essential workers in Austin with a flyover of F-16 Fighting Falcons on Wednesday afternoon. 

Retired Thunderbird Fred Erickson of Steiner Ranch watched with his wife Fran along with countless others across the city. The event was to honor frontline workers and health care professionals serving in the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think this was a very uplifting event for Austin… an exciting display of support for our caregivers, first responders and the city of Austin, as a whole,” said Erickson, who flew with the Thunderbirds from 1978-1979 and retired from the Air Force in 1988 as a full colonel.

Over Austin, the Thunderbirds flew level passes over the hospitals in order for everyone to get a close look at the precision required to fly the tight formations, he said. The trailing smoke makes it easier for everyone to see the aircraft.

“Thunderbirds fly six airplanes in extremely close formation, often the separation between aircraft is measured in inches, not feet,” Erickson added.

On May 13, the squadron began its 35-minute flight over Leander before circling over Georgetown, Round Rock, Pflugerville, downtown Austin and along Interstate 35. It circled around Lakeway and Four Points before returning to fly over I-35 through Buda and Kyle to finish its flight.

Erickson said what people saw in the skies over Austin is exactly what the Thunderbirds do each day.

“To achieve this high level of performance, the Thunderbirds train everyday, just as they would if they were serving in a combat squadron. All of the maneuvers you see are typical of what a fighter pilot does on a daily basis,” said Erickson. 

The most exciting part of flying for the Thunderbirds for him was the opportunity to travel across America and meet new people everyday, and share with them about their U.S. Air Force. 

“I especially loved the children who always had questions and would talk about flying jets and how they could become a pilot,” Erickson said. “It put a smile on my face everyday.” 

This week’s demonstrations were part of the Pentagon’s “Operation American Strong” mission, in which the Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over major American cities “to thank first responders, essential personnel, and military service members as we collectively battle the spread of COVID-19.” 

Some of these flyovers feature both squadrons, while some are flown individually. The Thunderbirds also flew over San Antonio on Wednesday. Last week, the Blue Angels flew over Dallas and Houston.

Erickson supports this mission and sees it as “an excellent demonstration of solidarity and support of the frontline workers fighting COVID-19.” 

Photos by Lynette Haaland and many other great members of our community.

Rebecca Hurst Kemp
Karen Young
Mike Clements Emerald Point Marina in Hudson Bend