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Blue Angels And Thunderbirds Salute New York Coronavirus Responders With Flyover

The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds military flight teams drew spectators in their pass over New York City on Tuesday to salute first responders.
Seth Wenig
The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds military flight teams drew spectators in their pass over New York City on Tuesday to salute first responders.

Updated 4:17 p.m. ET

Health care workers, first responders and other essential employees working on the front lines of the coronavirus fight in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were greeted with a booming "Thank You" early Tuesday afternoon.

The military's elite flight demonstration squadrons — the Navy's Blue Angels and the Air Force's Thunderbirds — flew in what is being called "a collaborative salute" to honor those battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 12 fighter jets, six of the Air Force's F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and half a dozen F-18 C/D Hornets — streaked over New York City and Newark starting at noon ET, before heading to Trenton, N.J., and Philadelphia.

"We are truly excited to take to the skies with our Navy counterparts for a nation-wide tribute to the men and women keeping our communities safe," U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell, who serves as Thunderbird 1 and mission commander for the flyover, said in a statement.

"We are incredibly honored to have the opportunity to salute those working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, we are in awe of your strength and resilience," said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, U.S. Navy Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader.

"Thank you to all of those in essential industries keeping our nation moving forward. We will get through this. We are all in this together," he added.

One spectator in New Jersey called the flyover "Amazing!" and tweeted a video of the 12 jets soaring overhead.

Another Twitter user posted a photo with the caption, "May be the best photo I have ever taken. Thank you @BlueAngels @AFThunderbirds #AmericaStrong."

Before the flyover salute, the Navy and Air Force urged people in the flight path to watch the jets from the safety of their homes and to maintain proper social distancing.

The military added that spectators should "refrain from traveling to landmarks, hospitals and gathering in large groups to view the flyover."

This was echoed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney who tweeted, "Please stay safe if you choose to peek outside to catch the display. Continue to follow social distancing guidelines."

Philadelphia-based radio station KYW reports that some, including the Philadelphia mayor, were also a little concerned about devoting resources to a flyover salute during a global pandemic.

"We could probably use the money on something else rather than personnel and equipment use," Kenney said to KYW. "But I'm not going to turn something positive into a negative. I hope people enjoy the flyover. I love looking at those planes myself."

The Department Defense said that while the "America Strong" showcase is intended to bring Americans together to fight the spread of the coronavirus, it also serves as an important training opportunity for both the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

"Pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency," according to a joint statement from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. "These flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers."

It added the multicity flyovers will be conducted "over areas of the country hardest hit by COVID-19" over the next two weeks.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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