When you’re flying in tight formation at 400 miles an hour, you don’t have much time to react when things go wrong. But you also don’t get to be an an Air Force Thunderbirds pilot without quick reflexes, as was evident during the demonstration team’s flight over Los Angeles
As you can see in footage from the flyover, Thunderbirds were soaring over the city in a tight delta formation when the #6 F-16 peeled off to the right in what looks like a move to avoid a potential collision with the #3 jet.
The video below, which was shot from a helicopter, shows the formation heading south, towards Newport Beach. Then, at about 0:26, you can see Thunderbird #1 level out fairly quickly from what looks like a small correction turn, with #3 sliding-out towards #6 on the right end of the formation as a result. #6 catches the potential issue and takes a hard break to the right out of the formation so as to avoid a potential collision. The rest of the delta formation also loses its form a bit for a moment, but they suck back together as they go into a steeper left-hand turn.
It isn’t exactly clear what caused the issue. According to the map the team released prior to the flyover, the formation should have been out over the water during this leg of their journey.
Regardless, it is a stark reminder of just how fast things can go from fine to potentially devastating up there. An unsightly breakaway is nothing compared to the alternative. So, although it wasn’t the team’s prettiest moment, it underscored just how well their contingency practices, honed over nearly 70 years, work.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are touring around the western United States as part of their “America Strong” flyover mission that is meant to support medical workers, first responders, and essential personal during the COVID-19 outbreak.