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Thunderbirds Take Show Down Under
(October 5, 2009)

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TOWNSVILLE, Australia (9/29/2009 - AFNS) -- The U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds, took to the Australian sky Sept. 26 showcasing the power and precision that embodies Air Force Airmen worldwide.
The Air Force Thunderbirds flying in F-16 Fighting Falcons make their way to Townsville, Australia, Sept. 21, 2009, from Hickam Air Force Base Hawaii.
The Air Force Thunderbirds flying in F-16 Fighting Falcons make their way to Townsville, Australia, Sept. 21, 2009, from Hickam Air Force Base Hawaii. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kristi Machado
Flying wingtip-to-wingtip formations and in solo maneuvers, the Thunderbirds put on a show for a crowd of more than 70,000 spectators lining the beach in Townsville and filling the balconies of hotels for miles around.

"When I was 12, I actually had a Thunderbirds replica model," said Jason Bitossi, a local man who enjoyed the Thunderbirds' recent visit "down under" with his son, Kyle.

The Thunderbirds typically travel from mid-March to Mid-November in the continental United States, and only travel overseas semi-annually. It's been more than a decade since the Thunderbirds performed in Australia; however, the airshow was about much more than the aerial demonstration. While hundreds of man-hours went into the planning and execution of the show, the relationship between America and Australia goes back much further.

"Many people don't realize that Australia is the only ally that has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America in every conflict dating back to World War I," said Maj. Tony Mulhare, the Thunderbirds advance pilot/narrator. "This airshow is an opportunity to strengthen bonds that date back nearly a century."

Indeed, right now there are Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen deployed to locations throughout the Middle East in support of coalition forces. The Royal Australian Air Force has provided fighter jets as well as combat airlift capability during operations in Southwest Asia. The RAAF also provided a location in Australia for the Thunderbirds to park the jets and perform scheduled maintenance.

Townsville Air Force Base officials welcomed the public with an open house Sept. 27, giving locals and tourists alike an up-close experience of the Thunderbirds. In addition to the Thunderbirds, RAAF aircraft on static display included the F-111, F-18, and the DHC-4 Caribou.

"It's such a thrill to be able to meet the pilots we saw flying yesterday," said Miranda Ryan, a camp counselor who brought more than 20 children out to the base to get up close and personal with the pilots and support personnel.

The Townsville Air Show is the second stop on the Thunderbirds' Far East tour following two performances in Hawaii. The six-week tour also includes stops scheduled for Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

By USAF TSgt. Randy Redman
U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Team Public Affairs
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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