USAF Thunderbirds COVID-19 Los Angeles Flyover

USAF Thunderbirds COVID-19 Los Angeles Flyover

Jason Daniel Shaw


The United States military via the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and other various demonstration teams have been doing flyovers in cities throughout the country to honor the COVID-19 front line workers. Friday, May 15th was the chance for the residents of Los Angeles to see the United States Air Force’s Thunderbirds fly their F-16s through the Southern California airspace. The plan was, after the San Diego flyover, they would head north through Orange County and on to Los Angeles. There, they would make a loop around downtown, head out to the beach at Santa Monica, down the south bay coast all the way to Long Beach, then one last pass through Orange County before heading out to Riverside. That was the plan as you can see by the flight path map posted below.

Los Angeles Thunderbirds Flyover Map


I decided to watch the flyover close to home, from the Manhattan Beach pier. So did quite a few others, including Manhattan Beach’s first responders. There was excitement in the air as everyone anxiously awaited the flyover. Keeping track of the flight using ABC7’s live coverage, we could tell that the flight path had already changed but still had hope. Around 2:30, the first responders had received word that the flyover was not happening for the south bay and started letting everyone know. You could see and hear their disappointment. The USAF Thunderbirds later released a statement on Twitter explaining that there was a high concentration of air traffic and they had to divert for public safety.

While I appreciate the flyovers, I think that they could have done a better job coordinating with ATC to stay with the plan. I am curious as to whether the traffic was commercial or general aviation. The traffic coming and going out of LAX is very light due to COVID-19, as you can see in my recent post. If it was general aviation traffic, ATC should have been able to vector traffic away, give the team a new path or maybe even do something with a TFR. Either way, I have heard a lot of feedback from the front line workers that they were excited to see the demonstration team flyover. I also wonder how common it is for the teams to deviate this much from their flight plan.

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