Thunderbirds CO Removed From Post

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Lt. Col. Jason Heard, the commanding officer of the Air Force Thunderbirds, was removed from his post last week by Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the 57th Wing. Heard’s tenure with the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron was marred by a crash earlier this year in which a pilot providing a demonstration ride for a non-flying member of the team failed to go around following an unstabilized approach to a wet runway in Dayton, Ohio. The pilot and backseat passenger are expected to make full recoveries from their injuries, but the F-16D flipped over when it left the pavement and was a total loss valued at $29 million.

In a statement, the Air Force said Heard’s removal was due to a loss of confidence in his risk management, but not in reference to the Dayton crash. “This decision was based on Brig. Gen. Leavit having lost confidence in his leadership in risk management style,” said a Thunderbirds spokesman. “Concerns arose that his approach to the team was resulting in increased risk within the demonstration which eroded the team dynamic … We are on the road together more than 200 days per year, executing flying operations with absolutely no margin for error. As a result, trust and teamwork in both our professional and personal dynamics are foundational to our mission.”

According to his now removed Thunderbirds website profile, Lt. Col. Heard was an F-15E Weapons Systems Operator before attending pilot training. He subsequently served as an instructor pilot, evaluator and a squadron commander—all in the Strike Eagle. He has over 3,000 flight hours and 788 combat hours. 


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