U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Return To Europe
RAF FAIRFORD, ENGLAND—For Maj. Nick Krajicek, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds' first international appearance since 2011 was a dream come true.
Born in West Point, Nebraska, the Thunderbirds slot pilot enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantry soldier right out of high school to "get off the farm, quite literally," he told Aviation Week here. He flew UH-60 Black Hawks as a Medevac pilot before transitioning to the Air Force in 2004. Krajicek applied to the Thunderbirds in 2014 and was rejected, but he was then selected the next year.
To prepare for their first performance in 10 years at the world's largest military air show, the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) held here, the Air Force's premier aerobatic team flew all over Great Britain July 10, flying over several bases, including RAF Lakenheath, as well as landmarks such as Stonehenge and Loch Ness, Scotland, Krajicek said.
Then it was on to France for a practice procession ahead of Bastille Day celebrations. The team flew over famous Paris landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Charles de Gaulle Airport as well as the French countryside. The Thunderbirds also flew over several sites in Normandy, France, to honor the U.S.-French alliance in World War II.
The visit culminated in the July 14 Bastille Day flight from the Arc de Triomphe to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde—flanked by two F-22 Raptors—and daily performances at RIAT July 14-16.
But for Krajicek, a highlight of the trip was flying in the back of one of the BAE Hawk trainer Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force's aerobatics team.
"Almost every pilot got a chance to fly with one of their Red Arrow counterparts," Krajicek said. "Really what it is is an exchange process where we can exchange how we can do business; we can kind of compare and contrast and find best practices."
Training and flying with the Red Arrows also gave Krajicek ideas about moves to incorporate into the Thunderbirds' next performance, he said.
"It was exhilarating. They have an absolutely amazing show," Krajicek said. "They are able to do some things with that aircraft that we wouldn't dream of doing with a combat aircraft."