The United States Air Force Thunderbirds are preparing to make their annual cross-country trip to Daytona, Florida for the 60th running of the Daytona 500. The famous Thunderbirds Delta formation is expected to arrive Friday ahead of Sunday's flyover to kick off the race.
An advance team arrived Monday in Daytona and began conducting visits to the Florida Hospital Memorial Medic Center, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the Halifax Health "Speediatrics" unit. Additionally, Thunderbird 8, Major Erik Gonsalves, flew NASCAR driver William Byron and Fox reporter Regan Smith.
This past week, the Thunderbirds Delta came together for the first time at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the Thunderbirds. This weekend's trip to Daytona will mark the first trip together for the 2018 team, which is under new command this season.
Back in November, Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt relieved Lt. Col. Jason Heard of duties after just one season with the team. Just two weeks later, Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, selected Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh as the new commander of the Thunderbirds. 2018 will mark Lt. Col. Walsh's third year of the team, with the first two being served as the squadron's Operations Officer.
Following the Thunderbirds' change in command, the team announced an extended 2018 winter training period, which resulted in the cancelling of their Luke AFB appearance March 10-11, as well as the date change for the 2018 Melbourne Air & Space Show, which was moved from March 17-18 to March 24-25 in order to accommodate the Thunderbirds. This means this weekend's Daytona 500 appearance will be the last until late March.
The Thunderbirds Delta will arrive Friday at Daytona Beach International Airport, and will begin preparing for Sunday's flyover, which will mark the 10th time the team has performed the flyover for the Daytona 500.
In order to achieve a perfect time on target, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh will be in constant radio contact with the team's Operations Officer, Major Eric Gorney, who will be standing high atop the speedway Sunday. Coincidently, it has been Lt. Col. Walsh in that role the past two seasons, and now it is his turn to take the reigns and lead the six F-16's with all of America watching.
According to Major Gorney's radio calls, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh will either speed up or slow down the formation as they approach the speedway, with the ultimate goal of being over pit road during "Home of the Brave." Major Eric Gorney will alert the formation if the national anthem is on time, behind schedule, or ahead of schedule, and Lt. Col. Walsh will make adjustments accordingly.
Make sure to stay tuned to our website and social media for updates and media regarding the Thunderbirds' arrival in Daytona as well as Sunday's big flyover!