USAF removes Thunderbirds commander

The US Air Force has taken the unprecedented step of removing the commander of its Thunderbirds flight demonstration team only half-way through his two-year posting, citing a loss of confidence.

Lt Col Jason Heard was relieved of his command on November 20 by 57th Wing commander Brig Gen Jeannie Leavitt due to a loss of confidence in the Thunderbirds 1 pilot’s “leadership and risk management style”.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team,” Brig Gen Jeannie Leavitt said in a statement.

“I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season.”

Lt Col Heard led the Thunderbirds throughout its 2017 season. The team flew 70 displays in 2017, a year marked by the loss of an F-16 during a familarisation flight in June.

The two-seat F-16D over-ran a wet runway while landing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, before overturning. The pilot and his maintenance technician passenger suffered minor injuries, but the aircraft was written off.

Lt Col Heard has more than 3,000 flight hours and 800 hours on combat operations. He is a former F-15 squadron commander.