Shocking Report Reveals Why the Air Force fired the Thunderbird’s commanding officer after just one season?
Lt. Col. Jason Heard, the commander of the USAF Flight Demonstration Team, aka The Thunderbirds, was relieved of command last November.
The report, obtained by Air Force Times via the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the reason why Heard was relieved of command was that he was not following the “rules,” or flying regulations and Took Formation Supersonic investigation found that he also “did exhibit aggressive physical contact towards his subordinate,” an unnamed member of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, on Sept. 11, 2017, at an Irish pub in National Harbor, Maryland.
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On that evening, the unnamed pilot was “agitated” by how Heard was leading Thunderbirds flights and felt he was not following the “rules,” or flying regulations. Multiple witnesses told investigators that they were concerned about the relationship between Heard and that pilot and that the pilot told several teammates he thought Heard “was going to kill him” while flying.
The “tense relationship” erupted in the bar last September, the day after the Thunderbirds conducted a flyover for the Washington Redskins home opener at FedEx Field in Landover Maryland.
Before that, Heard, who was an F-15E Weapon Systems Officer turned Strike Eagle pilot, had repeatedly decided to break the rules while his teammates were flying just feet away from his aircraft.
This included taking the diamond formation supersonic during a transit flight to the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK back in July of 2017. Heard also attempted a loop on takeoff at an airshow in Boise even though weather conditions were below the minimums allowed for the maneuver.
Related link: Videos of Thunderbird F-16 fighter jet Crash at Airshows
According to the news report by new report by Air Force Times’ Stephen Losey
Seven witnesses observed the altercation, the report said, and “witness testimony was consistent that Lt. Col. Heard placed his hands around [the unnamed pilot’s] neck.” Witnesses told investigators that both Heard and the other pilot had consumed alcohol that evening. One of the witnesses, who was closest to the two, intervened and broke it up, the report said.
That pilot wasn’t the only one who felt Heard was breaking the rules. Multiple witnesses testified that Heard “compromised safety and violated Air Force flying regulations and FAA regulations,” the report said.
Witnesses testified that when Heard led the Thunderbirds delta formation flyover above the Redskins game Sept. 10, 2017, they were flying at an altitude well below the minimum for a populated area, the report said.
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Multiple witnesses also told investigators that they perceived Heard’s leadership style to be “hostile,” the report said.
The report concluded that as commander and leader of the Thunderbirds, Heard was “charged to maintain good order and discipline in the squadron he commands. By exhibiting aggressive physical contact toward his subordinate, [redacted], he demonstrated a lack of judgment [sic] and ability to effectively command his unit.”
Heard took command of the squadron Jan. 6, 2017, and was relieved at the conclusion of the season Nov. 20, 2017, by Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, former commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
The Air Force said in a release last November that “Leavitt lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style [and] determined that new leadership was necessary to ensure the highest levels of pride, precision, and professionalism within the team.”
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