The F-16s of the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds will make their first Super Bowl appearance since 2019 on Feb. 11, roaring over Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nev., just before kickoff.
The iconic red, white, and blue Fighting Falcons will blaze through the sky at 400 miles per hour, right as the live performance of the National Anthem comes to a close. The stadium, located near Las Vegas, is firmly within the Thunderbirds’ home territory, as they are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., only about 15 miles away.
In preparation for their big game night demonstration, the Thunderbirds have been flying twice a day, six times a week, to ensure a flawless performance, one pilot told local TV station KLAS.
“It’s a delicate balance of timing, speed, and vocal performance,” Michelle Curran, a former Thunderbird pilot who conducted the 2019 Super Bowl flyover, wrore on her Linkedin page . “If the jets are too fast or slow, we’ll miss our mark. If Gladys (Knight) speeds up or extends a note, we’ll miss our mark.”
The Thunderbirds squadron comprises eight pilots, four support officers, three civilians, and over 130 enlisted personnel across 25 career fields. Curran highlighted the significance of teamwork, made possible through those who work tirelessly on the ground, including maintenance professionals and coordinating staff.
“This dance of timing and precision, unseen by most, is a testament to the teamwork among pilots and performers of various disciplines coming together to create an incredible moment,” wrote Curran. “It’s about building trust, fostering collaboration, and creating an environment where everyone is empowered to reach their highest potential.”
To qualify as a Thunderbirds pilot, one must have served more than three but no more than 12 years, with at least 1,000 hours of flight time.
The Thunderbirds, the USAF’s Air Demonstration Squadron, perform precision aerial maneuvers at events around the world. While their primary focus is on demonstrations, the Thunderbirds are also part of the combat force. This means that if necessary, the team’s personnel and aircraft can be swiftly integrated into a fighter unit at Nellis. Their modified F-16s can be made combat-ready in under 72 hours.
The anticipated flyover at Super Bowl LVIII will be the team’s first demonstration of 2024. They typically have around 75 events per year, but none are likely to surpass the exposure of Super Bowl Sunday—it has been projected that more than 115 million people could watch this year’s game on CBS.