Thunderbirds arrive in Duluth ahead of All-Star Game flyover
If you saw eight F-16 Fighting Falcons streaking through the sky Sunday afternoon, you can count yourself lucky. Northland residents were treated to a preview of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s elite demonstration team, as they arrived in Duluth.
On Tuesday, the same planes will take to the air again, en route to a flyover of Target Field at the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Maj. Joshua Boudreaux, Thunderbird Pilot No. 2, said he expects to be part of a six-jet formation that will pass 1,000 feet over the stadium in a flat delta formation at about 400 mph just as Idina Menzel hits the final note of the national anthem. The team will maintain radio contact with the ground to help time their arrival perfectly. Boudreaux said he’s hoping for a straight-forward musical delivery.
“Some of the big-name musicians in particular like to take lots of liberties with the song, and that can really hose us,” he said.
Boudreaux said the team can adjust its arrival time by altering its flight path but can only do so much traveling at jet speed.
The team will cover the 130 miles from Duluth to Target Field in about 15 minutes.
Each of the multimillion-dollar fighter jets will consume about 3,000 pounds — or 500 gallons — of fuel to make the round trip on Tuesday.
Boudreaux, a native of New Orleans, said this was his first visit to Duluth and marked his northernmost destination in the U.S. during his 11-year career with the Air Force. The Thunderbirds took off from Las Vegas on Sunday morning.
“It was 105 degrees when we left, and to encounter 65- to 70-degree weather here feels just wonderful,” he said.
Capt. Jodi Kiminski of the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth said her unit was the logical host for the Thunderbirds as operators of the closest F-16 base to the Twin Cities. She said local Air Guard members will try to ensure the best possible visit for the Thunderbirds, who were last in Duluth for an airshow in 2010.
The Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s fighter jet demonstration team, are slated to appear at the Duluth Airshow this year. But Kiminski said she hopes to have the Thunderbirds back to perform at the event again in 2016.
“We’re as excited as anybody to see them,” she said, noting that several Air Guard members and their families had come in on a day off just to welcome the Thunderbirds and watch them arrive.
Major Derrick Lee, a public affairs officer for the Thunderbirds, thanked the 148th for its support.
“We do the same thing they do here every day, just with thousands of people watching us,” he said.
Boudreaux said the Thunderbirds are a self-supported traveling unit, but it’s still reassuring to have access to the resources of a fully outfitted F-16 base, if needed.
A C-17 cargo plane arrived in Duluth at about 6 a.m. Sunday loaded with tools and parts for the Thunderbirds. The unit also usually travels with a contingent of 50-55 support members for airshows but will get by with about 30 people for the Target Field flyover, Boudreaux said.
The All-Star Game is one of just four flyovers the Thunderbirds will do this calendar year. Others include the Daytona 500, the Las Vegas Kobalt 400 and the Rose Bowl parade.