On April 13th, during a practice flight before a weekend air show, a member of the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team went supersonic over Tucson. The sonic boom frightened people and broke a lot of windows. Going supersonic over populated areas is a huge USAF “be no” (as in “there shall be no …”) and I don’t doubt the offending pilot is in a heap of trouble, temporarily grounded and quite possibly no longer a Thunderbird. In my day, it was a one-mistake Air Force for anyone on the leadership track, as Thunderbird pilots always are … I doubt that’s changed.
FAA and military regulations prohibit supersonic flight outside of certain designated areas over the oceans or unpopulated sections of land. USAF pilots are supposed to mind their speed; Thunderbird pilots, who are exemplars of professionalism (and closely watched by Air Force leadership to make sure they stay that way), are supposed to be perfect. Perfect in this case means pushing the Mach during high speed runs but never exceeding it, and yes, there are cockpit and head up display indicators to tell you exactly how fast you’re going. Busting the mach at low altitude over a city is a mortal sin, as inexcusable as bending a wingtip during a taxi accident.
But I’m here to tell you it’s awfully easy to go supersonic when you’re pushing the Mach. A little turbulence, a sudden drop in air temperature, a momentary distraction, a second’s inattention, and you’ll go from .97 to 1.0 almost instantly. And there’s no taking it back. I feel for that pilot. Any fast-mover would, because we’ve all done it.
Which brings me to this letter, which appeared in today’s Arizona’s Daily Star:
Ground the pilot who created sonic boom
Re: the April 14 article “Sonic boom shatters windows.”
First of all, let me say that I am fully supportive of our base in Tucson and very happy they are here, and I appreciate the service to our country our forces are providing us.
However, when a stick jockey goes off the reservation such as happened Friday at approximately 2:45 p.m., serious action should be taken by his commander.
First, he should be knocked down two ranks and pay scale adjusted. Secondly, he should be grounded for six months. Third, he should be enrolled in psychological evaluation for those six months. Fourth, he should be forced to attend a six-month flight-training class to get his priorities and responsibilities straightened out. Go Air Force!
Howard S. MacNeill
Retired business executive, Tucson
Go Air Force?
Go fuck yourself, Mr. MacNeill.
Too tribal? Too bad.
© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.