By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Flight physical: check. Safety brief: check. Preflight checks: complete. Next up: a 400 mph ride with the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, better known as the Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds landed at Peterson May 26 in preparation for the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 28. As part of their community outreach program, the squadron provides selected community figures with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride in the backseat of one of the Thunderbirds aircraft.
“I was very surprised at first when I received the phone call,” said Chief Christopher Riley, Colorado Springs Fire Department chief and selected guest Thunderbirds passenger. “I am very honored and excited about the opportunity to fly with the Thunderbirds.”
Riley was one of two VIPs selected to fly with the world-famous Thunderbirds. The other was local TV personality and meteorologist, Rachael Plath of KRDO News.
“I am not nervous, these people (the Thunderbird squadron) are complete professionals and have a lot of experience with handling guests like myself,” said Riley. “I did a little research, but from watching TV, the news and movies, I have a pretty good idea about what I am getting myself into.”
The individuals selected for this unique opportunity are selected from a handful of names submitted, mostly by their peers, and represent the local community through their service or influence in bettering Colorado Springs as a whole.
“The extension of this invite is by virtue of the position I hold, I am extremely honored to be the Colorado Springs fire chief, and on behalf of the outstanding men and women of the fire department, I am here to represent them,” said Riley.
The Thunderbirds were formed in 1953, and 2014 marks the 32nd year the squadron has performed in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Assigned to Air Combat Command, the squadron is composed of nearly 130 Airmen serving in more than two dozen Air Force job specialties.
The primary product of that teamwork is the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration, which is approximately 40 maneuvers, varying between formation flying and solo routines. The entire show, including the beginning ground ceremony, lasts about one hour. A typical air show travel season extends from March to November.
The Thunderbirds provided its traditional flyover at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation May 28, followed by an aerial demonstration.
To learn more about the Thunderbirds and their schedule, visit www.afthunderbirds.com. On Facebook, Instagram Twitter or YouTube search for afthunderbirds.