Editor’s Note: I’ve had the privilege of working with Mike before, photographing the Thunderbirds–but not at Daytona. He’s a solid guy, easy to work with, and a very gifted photographer. I remember a time where we were supposed to photograph 920th Rescue Wing HH-60s out of Patrick Air Force Base for the Cocoa Beach Air Show. Instead, we flew around sitting on the open ramp of a C-130 enjoying the view of the Space Coast, not photographing much of anything because both helicopters canceled. Still a great memory shared with a great dude. This was certainly a great opportunity for him.

We’re going to leave the photographs over at his photography business site, but strongly recommend you go over and take a look. He gives a very clear description of what equipment he used for the shoot, as well as some of the challenges he faced while in the cramped tail-end of the KC-135R.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 demonstration squadron kicked off a busy 2016 on Feb. 19 with a cross-country journey from their home at Nellis AFB, NV to Daytona Beach, Fla., where they performed the National Anthem flyover at the 2016 NASCAR Daytona 500.

But they needed help along the way to get there.

The Thunderbirds En Route To Daytona!
A Solo pilot from the U.S. Air Force’s “Thunderbirds” performs a minimum-radius turn at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

U.S. global air superiority comes thanks, in large part, to aerial refuelers, such as KC-135 Stratotankers and their crews. The birds are old, dating back to the 50’s and 60’s, but they are well maintained and have been modified heavily over the years to expand its capabilities, efficiency, safety and reliability. U.S. airpower simply would not be what it is without mid-air refueling, and the Thunderbirds required two fill-ups to get cross-country for NASCAR’s 2016 Super Bowl.

The 6th Air Mobility Wing, based out of MacDill AFB, Tampa was responsible for the mission. The tanker was loaded with 60,000 pounds of fuel for Thunderbirds 1-6, and before the sun even rose it was wheels up at 6:10 a.m. for a 7.5 hour round-trip operation to New Mexico and back, call sign “Bolt 13.”

The rest of Mike’s diary on his experience, as well as the spectacular photos, can be seen here.