The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team make a pass over the runway in formation before landing in Yuma, Ariz., in 2012. The Air Force is saying it will ground the Thunderbirds without a federal budget deal. (Craig Fry / The Yuma Sun via AP, file)
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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Air Force Academy seniors may be tossing their hats into an empty sky when they graduate next May because the budget battle in Washington has grounded the Thunderbirds demonstration team.
The signature moment of the ceremony comes at the end when jubilant cadets — now newly commissioned second lieutenants — sail their hats into the air as the Thunderbirds' F-16 jets streak overhead in formation.
Thunderbirds spokesman Maj. Darrick Lee said Tuesday the team canceled about 58 appearances between April 1 and the end of the season in November.
Lee says the move will allow the Air Force to shift more flying time and resources into combat training amid mandatory spending cuts. It wasn't immediately clear how much money the move would save.
This is the Thunderbirds' 60th anniversary year.