For the 7th straight year, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds are set to kickoff the Daytona 500 Sunday with a flyover following the playing of the National Anthem.
Earlier this week, the Thunderbirds advance team arrived to Daytona Beach International Airport in preparation of this weekend's big flyover. They had the opportunity to fly NASCAR legend Bill Elliott along with his son, up and coming superstar Chase Elliott. Just two days before, Chase Elliott became the youngest Daytona 500 pole-sitter after turning a lap of 196.314 miles per hour. However, Chase experienced a speed of three times that on Tuesday as he strapped in to the back of a red, white, and blue F-16 Fighting Falcon.
After enjoying some time with a couple of hardcore speed seekers, Thunderbird #7, Major Kevin Walsh, and Thunderbird #8, Major Scott Petz, began preparing for the rest of the team's arrival. The advance team also took time to visit the Halifax Health Speediatrics unit, where they met with numerous kids battling a variety of illnesses.
Friday morning, the famous Thunderbird Delta soared across the United States en route to Daytona Beach, Florida from their home base, Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. The cross-country trip is too long for an F-16 Fighting Falcon to make non-stop, so the team got some help from the USAF 6th Air Mobility Wing out of MacDill Air Force Base. A KC-135 departed MacDIll early Friday morning, and headed across the country before meeting up with the team in the skies above New Mexico. Each F-16 Fighting Falcon was refueled twice, once over New Mexico and once over Louisiana, with 5,000 pounds of fuel going into each F-16 each time. Do the math: That's 10,000 pounds of fuel for each of the six jets in the Delta totaling 60,000 pounds of fuel transferred from the KC-135 over the course of the trip. The Thunderbirds were escorted by the tanker from New Mexico all the way into Florida, cruising at 400 miles per hour at an altitude of 26,000 feet.
Friday afternoon, Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond led the Delta into the skies above Daytona Beach. The team made several passes over Daytona International Speedway prior to touching down at Daytona Beach International Airport, which is located conveniently right behind the back stretch of the Daytona International Speedway. After touching down in Daytona, the team headed to the Speedway for interviews before heading to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to enlighten students on career possibilities associated with the U.S. Air Force.
Saturday Morning, the Thunderbird Delta took to the skies and completed a practice flyover, making sure coordination between the formation and the team on the ground is in line and on time. Following the flyover, they went straight from the cockpits to the garages inside of Daytona International Speedway. They met with drivers such as Clint Boyer, who expressed his excitement after seeing the team's practice flyover.
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds are expected to be over the speedway just before 1:00 pm EST Sunday, and will be followed by the 58th running of the Daytona 500, also known as the Great American Race.
Sunday's flyover is set to take place just three weeks prior to the team's 2016 season opener, which is scheduled for March 12-13 at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. However, March 6, the Thunderbirds Delta is scheduled to flyover the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Find the Thunderbirds' complete schedule along with information regarding the team online at http://afthunderbirds.com/site/