ATLANTA — The Air Force Thunderbirds arrived into Dobbins Air Reserve Base late Friday pumped and prepared to perform a six-jet high-speed flyover of Super Bowl LIII.
Sunday will mark the Thunderbird’s third Super Bowl flyover in the past five years. Each flyover is precisely timed to the second so that the six jets are over the stadium on a specific letter of the national anthem.
“We’ll take off from (Dobbins ARB) and we will go hold in a pattern, and a minute before the national anthem starts, we will begin the run-in,” Thunderbirds Flight Surgeon Maj. (Dr.) Glen Goncharow explained to this aerospace reporter. “We have committed at that point.”
As the jets are beginning the flyover, Thunderbirds logistics officers Lt. Col. Eric Gorney, Maj. Jason Markzon, and Maj. Ray Geoffroy will be inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on walkie talkies communicating with the Thunderbirds jets. It is up to these three to relay word which will allow the squaron to hit their time-on-target to the second.
“When we talk about precision, we’re not just shooting for the end of the national anthem, we are shooting for the “r” in “brave” and that is when we want to be over the stadium,” Maj. Goncharow added. “That’s about as precise as you can get.”
The Thunderbirds delta formation will soar at a speed of 450 m.p.h. only 500 feet above the stadium. The flyover will occur at about 6:25 p.m. as Atlanta-born R and B legend Gladys Knight sings the last note of the national anthem. The game will be televised on CBS-TV.
Lt. Col. John “Brick” Caldwell is the new commander of the squadron and lead pilot. Thunderbird pilots 2 through 6 are Capt. Will “Boar” Graeff (left wing), Capt. Michael “Thorny” Brewer (right wing), Major Whit “Skate” Collins (slot), Major Matt Kimmel (lead solo); and Capt. Michelle “Mace” Curran (opposing solo).
America’s Ambassadors in Blue’s six demonstration jets were smoke-on as they arrived over the Dobbins airfield on Friday in their popular delta formation. Each red, white, and blue F-16 then separated from the delta, arced away and touched down individually at 5:16 p.m. EST.
As the setting sun offered a golden hue to the newly parked aircraft, the pilots were all smiles as they left the jets and were greeted by the maintenance teams. The ground crew quickly went to work to secure the aircraft and prepare them for the night.
“It is always a phenomenal opportunity when we get to have the Thunderbirds here at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, and for the flyover, it’s just another opportunity to show what the Air Force has to offer,” Brig. Gen. Richard Kemble, 94th Airlift Wing and Dobbins commander said on Friday. “We are all excited to have the Thunderbirds here.”
Gen. Kemble added that Dobbins is also supporting the security flights around the stadium by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. “The men and women of the 94th this weekend are also supporting other federal agencies across the ramp as they ensure the safety and security of everyone participating in the (Super Bowl).”
The Thunderbirds will return to their home at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on Monday to continue winter training in preparation for their first air show on March 23 and 24 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona.
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)