Following the Thunderbird flyover at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs Thursday, a bird struck the canopy of one of the demonstration team’s aircraft.
Fortunately, Thunderbird 3, Capt. Michael Brewer, was not injured in the incident. Brewer is the right wing pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron.
The annual flyover at Falcon Stadium occurs at the close of the ceremony, just as the graduating seniors are dismissed and ceremoniously toss their caps into the air.
After a successful six-ship Delta Formation, Thunderbird 3 received a bird strike mid-flight and immediately returned to nearby Peterson Air Force Base, said Maj. Ray Geoffroy, the squadron’s spokesman, in an email to Air Force Times.
“Out of an abundance of caution, he returned to base and landed safely without incident prior to the aerial demonstration of today’s performance,” Geoffroy stated.
After Brewer’s departure, the rest of America’s Ambassadors in Blue continued with the aerial demonstration portion of the day’s performance without any further complications, he said.
“Thunderbird 3’s aircraft was inspected by our maintenance crews and deemed safe to fly,” Maj. Geoffroy said.
After the demonstration was complete, the rest of the team returned safely to Peterson Air Force Base. Since then, all six aircraft have flown back home to their home at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Bird strikes like the one Thursday have cost the Air Force more than $800 million over the past 24 years. There have been more than 100,000 bird strikes since 1995, which have resulted in 27 deaths and the loss of 13 aircraft, Air Force Times reported earlier this week.
This isn’t the first time the Thunderbirds have encountered difficulties at the Academy’s graduation ceremony. In 2016, Thunderbird 6 crash landed in a field following the flyover and demonstration. Maj. Alex Turner was forced to eject from his F-16 after a throttle malfunction, but was able to put his F-16 in a glide path that resulted in the aircraft remaining remarkably intact following the crash.