NORFOLK, Va. - The Air Force says it is scaling back participation in dozens of air shows this year to cut costs and ensure combat pilots get the training hours they need in a time of shrinking budgets.
The cutbacks will not affect the service’s premier demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, but will mean fewer fighter jets performing for crowds.
Officials at Air Combat Command cut out solo performances of five of its crews based in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah.
Eliminating solo performances by the A-10, which provides air support for ground forces, and the F-16 and F-15E, which are capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, is expected to save the Air Force $15.5 million and permit about 970 training flights that otherwise would have been canceled. The cost savings include fuel and travel for pilots and their maintenance crews. It is unclear whether the teams will perform again next year.
“The goal of the commander of Air Combat Command is to maintain mission-ready pilots, and in order to do that we had to cut some money. And being able to save 900 some odd sorties - that’s quite a few pilots that we can maintain,’’ said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Brazelton, branch chief of Air Combat Command’s aerial events staff.
The only combat plane that will conduct solo performances this year is the F-22 Raptor, which is based in Hampton, Va.