Report Sheds Light On Thunderbirds CO Removal

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The problems that led to the removal of former commanding officer of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Lt. Col. Jason Heard, from squadron leadership included “aggressive physical contact towards his subordinate” and violating regulations, according to the Air Force Times, which recently obtained a report on the investigation into Heard’s behavior via the Freedom of Information Act. Heard was in command of the squadron from January 2017 until his removal in November the same year.

Several witnesses told investigators that they observed Heard place his hands around the neck of an unnamed fellow pilot while at a bar in September 2017. The report also noted that witnesses had testified to several incidents while Heard was in the cockpit, including leading a formation flyover well below the minimum altitude for a populated area, intentionally taking a formation supersonic while en route to an airshow, and attempting a loop right after takeoff in unsuitable weather conditions.

“This decision [to remove Heard] was based on Brig. Gen. Leavitt having lost confidence in his leadership in risk management style,” said a Thunderbirds spokesman last year. “Concerns arose that his approach to the team was resulting in increased risk within the demonstration which eroded the team dynamic.” The Air Force has not released information about Heard’s current assignment. He was replaced as commanding officer of the Thunderbirds by Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh.

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