Thunderbirds Roar Over the Atlantic City Boardwalk in 2017


America’s Ambassadors in Blue, The United States Air Force Thunderbirds, arrived in New Jersey for Thunder Over The Boardwalk ahead of a rare North American celestial event. On Monday, August 21, 2017, the team arrived at Atlantic City International Airport as a partial solar eclipse was readying to take place. I spoke to Thunderbird 5, Lead Solo Major Alex Turner about possibly flying during the solar eclipse. Major Turner was excited about the event and explained, “We considered doing a photo shoot with the solar eclipse but couldn’t locate the proper equipment”. I asked if the helmet visor provided enough eye protection if they had flown during the solar eclipse, and he explained that it does not. He went on to state we actually landed in New Jersey before the eclipse so we wouldn’t have an issue.


Thunder Over The Boardwalk is celebrating its fifteenth year and is a unique midweek airshow. This is one of a three busier weeks where the Thunderbirds add a midweek show into their schedule. The team began their week at the Selfridge Open House in Michigan on the previous Thursday. On Monday, it was onto Thunder Over The Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey before departing Thursday morning for Thunder Over Dover in Dover, Delaware. Thunderbird 7, Operations Officer Lt. Colonel Kevin Walsh said “It’s tiring, but worth it”.

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The unusual thing about the Atlantic City Airshow and Dover’s Open House is how close by air they are. It is perhaps the shortest flight between back to back show sites the Thunderbirds have ever undertaken. I witnessed Lt. Colonel Walsh depart Atlantic City with an unrestricted climb to seven thousand feet before leveling and starting his decent into Dover. I asked him how long did the flight take? He proudly said he made the flight in under seven and a half minutes. I asked if he needed all that altitude to get to Dover. He said no, but why wouldn’t you use it if you could. He stressed that even though the flight time is short, it is a two and a half hour drive between show sites which brings in two entirely different groups of people to the show sites.


Thunderbird 1, Commander/Leader Lt. Colonel Jason Heard also proudly pointed out that in addition to the travel flights, circles and arrivals, practices and demonstrations, the Thunderbirds also had time to do public outreach, media and Hometown Hero flights, reenlistment and recruiting events while filming an episode of the Cake Boss TV show. “Our team is a well oiled machine” he stated. The practice show demonstration featured seven jets with the Cake Boss / Hometown Hero flight being incorporated. I caught up with Thunderbird 10, Executive Officer Angelina Urbina and asked her how Joey from Cake Boss did on his flight and she said he hit it out of the park.


Show day in Atlantic City brought ever changing weather conditions. Lt. Colonel Heard said the team actually flew all three of their shows during their demonstration. The team began with a flat show which is down to 1500 feet. He then called for the team to transition to a high show which is down to 6000 feet. The demonstration changed one last time to the low show which is down to 3500 feet’. I asked Lt. Colonel Heard how is the decision made to change the demonstration. The number one priority is show safety.


The transitions are practiced to take place on certain maneuvers. Thunderbird 12, Public Affairs Officer Captain Sara Harper will interact with the show site team and advise on the conditions. Thunderbird 3, Right Wing, Major Nate Hoffman elaborated that deconfliction must be completed before a show transition can take place. He added that is usually after the solos join up with the diamond. Major Hoffman was asked about the flat show being a shorter demonstration than the high show. He explained that it is but only because it takes less time to recover and set up the next maneuver when compared to a high show.


The Thunder Over The Boardwalk Show also saw a former co-worker of mine honored as the ‘Fallen Hero’. The Thunderbirds honor either a Fallen Hero or Fallen Warrior at each show they perform. New Jersey State Trooper Frankie Williams was nominated by the 177th Fighter Wings Public Affairs Office. Master Sergeant Andy Merlock coordinated with Trooper Williams family and the Thunderbirds, who selected Trooper Williams, to be honored at Thunder Over The Boardwalk. Lt. Colonel Heard said additionally Trooper Williams name was flown on Thunderbird 1. The team also treated Trooper Williams family and friends to a first class VIP experience at the show site.

These photos are provided courtesy of the USAF Thunderbirds, Lt. Colonel Jason Heard, and their Public Affairs Officer Captain Sara Harper. Special thanks to Community Relations NCO, SSGT Tabatha McCarthy too.

The photos below are additional views of the show in Atlantic City by our photographer Bob Finch:

Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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