DENVER (AP) — Both of the U.S. military’s high-drama, high-dollar flying teams suffered crashes on the same day this week, but supporters say the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels are worth the money and the risk because they’re vital to recruitment and help citizens feel good about their military.
“It’s our No. 1 recruiting tool,” said retired Air Force Col. Pete McCaffrey, a pilot with the Thunderbirds from 1992 to 1995.
Most people don’t get to see the military up close, but when they see the elite air squadrons perform, “it gives them a sense of pride in their military and their country, and I think now we need that more than ever,” McCaffrey said Friday.
A Blue Angels F/A-18 crashed Thursday near Nashville, Tennessee, while taking off for a practice session ahead of a weekend air show. The pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, was killed.
Also Thursday, a Thunderbirds F-16 crashed outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, but that pilot, Maj. Alex Turner, ejected safely. The Thunderbirds had just performed over the open-air graduation ceremony at the nearby Air Force Academy, where President Barack Obama spoke.
The military hasn’t publicly discussed the cause of either crash. Both are under investigation.
The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds have had dozens of crashes in their long histories, and a total of at least nine pilots been killed during performances or practices since 1985.
The teams are pricey, too. The Thunderbirds have an annual operating budget of $35 million, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Katie Maricle, a spokeswoman for the Air Combat Command. A Navy spokesman couldn’t immediately provide the Blue Angels’ budget.
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