REPORT: Air Force Thunderbirds leader removed from job

Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 5:18 PM

            The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds arrived at the Dayton International Airport in June in preparation for the upcoming Vectren Dayton Air Show. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds arrived at the Dayton International Airport in June in preparation for the upcoming Vectren Dayton Air Show. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The leader of the Air Force Thunderbirds was fired from the high-profile post after his commanding general lost confidence in the pilot, according to the Air Force.

Lt. Col. Jason Heard, who commanded the team during a visit in Dayton in June, led a “highly successful show season,” but his commanding officer “lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style,” an Air Force statement said.

Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where the team is based, removed Heard from the top pilot’s job.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team,” she said in a statement. “I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season.”

RELATED: Excessive speed blamed for Thunderbird jet crash in Dayton

Heard, who flew the No. 1 jet, was in his first year of a two-year tour of duty with the famed team that flies six red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons in tight aerobatic formations.

His removal was effective Nov. 20, at the conclusion of the 2017 show season, the Air Force said.

Additional details were not released on the reason behind the firing. But the team had a major mishap in Dayton on June 23 when a Thunderbird jet slid off a wet runway and flipped over in a grassy area at Dayton International Airport a day before the Thunderbirds were set to perform in the Vectren Dayton Air Show.

Capt. Erik Gonsalves, the No. 8 team pilot who did not fly in show formations but narrated performances, suffered leg injuries and was hospitalized for several days at Miami Valley Hospital. A crew member who was a passenger in the two-seat F-16D was not injured.

RELATED: Who are the two Thunderbirds in Dayton crash?

After the accident, the team canceled weekend appearances at the air show. Heard spoke about the incident at a televised press conference in Dayton after the mishap.

In an accident investigation report released this month, the Air Force said excessive speed and landing too far down the runway contributed to the mishap that destroyed the $29 million fighter plane.

The team’s canceled Dayton appearances marked the second consecutive year a military jet team scrubbed flying at the Dayton Air Show.

RELATED: Blue Angels set to fly at 2018 Dayton Air Show

In 2016, the Navy’s Blue Angels canceled several performances, including in Dayton, after a fatal crash killed a pilot during a practice air show in Tennessee.

The Blue Angels are scheduled to return to the Dayton Air Show on June 23-24, 2018.

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Major Wright-Patt gate will temporarily close today

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 10:00 AM
Updated: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 2:14 AM

Major Wright-Patt gate will temporarily close

A major gateway will close at Wright-Patterson today for maintenance, impacting the travel of thousands of commuters.

Gate 19B off National Road will be closed from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., according to base spokesman Daryl Mayer.

More than 5,700 inbound drivers travel through the entrance and nearly 6,300 drive off base through the gate every work day.

Crews will work on “routine maintenance” at the gateway, Mayer said.

RELATED: Wright-Patt gateway to close as part of security upgrade

“Since that (gate) is open 24/7 normally, they never have a chance to work on it,” he said.

Motorists may use Gates 1B off Springfield Street and Gate 22B off Interstate 675 as alternatives, according to Wright-Patterson.

Gate 19B had a major makeover last year with $1.3 million in upgrades that added overhead canopies, more guard booths and a barrier system, Wright-Patterson has said.

RELATED: Security concerns prompt Wright-Patt to close major gateway

The base closed Gate 26A off Ohio 235 because of security concerns this month. The gate, which had more than 5,000 vehicles a day, remains closed.

A new $10.5 million replacement gate, combining the current Gate 26A and the commercial truck entrance at Gate 16A off Ohio 444, is due to open late next year.

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Air Force urged to pick Wright-Patterson for hundreds more jobs

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 5:10 PM

            The F-35A Lightning II performs at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in June, 2017. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
            Ty Greenlees
The F-35A Lightning II performs at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in June, 2017. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Wright-Patterson could add 400 jobs if Air Force leaders are persuaded by Ohio’s congressional delegation to locate a F-35 stealth fighter office to the Miami Valley base.

The Defense Department and the Air Force have not said how many bases are in contention for the F-35 Product Hybrid Support Integrator Organization. But Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Phil Parker said Wright-Patterson was likely “a top contender” for the Air Force jobs.

“I think it would be a real plus to our continued importance and growth inside the fence and even outside the fence with some of the contractors that might play a role in that development,” he said.

“I can’t speak to that it’s a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly makes a lot of sense with the capability we have” and the military and civilian workforce.

RELATED: Wright-Patt a contender to manage stealth fighter program

Parker said the Dayton Development Coalition is actively involved in working to attract the new jobs. Michael Gessel, Coalition vice president of federal programs, said he could not comment publicly.

Pentagon leaders have concurred with a report to create two separate offices — one for the Air Force and the other for the Navy and Marine Corps — to manage three different versions of the F-35. The Joint Program Office in Crystal City, Md., manages the program today which has been under development since 2001.

Wright-Patterson has an F-35 technical division office, but the additional jobs would add more responsibility for oversight and management.

“Wright-Patt is probably the only base in the entire Air Force where every single skill and competency relevant to the F-35 is already resident,” said Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant.

RELATED: Spending plan could give boost to Wright-Patt

In a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the Ohio congressional delegation cited Wright-Patterson’s technical workforce, area universities and command headquarters among key factors to bring the jobs to the region.

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, along with U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, were among those who signed the letter.

“First, we make a good case and Wright-Patt is … the ideal place for this,” Brown, co-chairman of the Senate Air Force Caucus, said in a brief interview Thursday.

The congressional delegation cited the acquisition headquarters of the Air Force Materiel Command, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, which manages aircraft programs, the Air Force Research Laboratory, which develops new aircraft technologies, and the Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate, which handles foreign sales, among reasons to locate the office at the base.

In a recent interview, Turner, whose district spans Wright-Patterson and is the chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee, said the base should “bode well” in the competition because of an experienced workforce managing aircraft programs and offices for foreign military sales.

RELATED: Wright-Patterson to get new base commander

Wright-Patterson has a “long legacy … of working on advanced aircraft” and is close to Washington, D.C., he added.

“It will be an easy transition if it comes to Dayton, Ohio,” he said then.

The Fighters and Bombers Directorate, which oversees management programs such as the F-15, F-16 and F-22, and the B-1, B-2 and B-52, is headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

The base is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 civilian employees and military personnel. The base has an estimated economic impact of more $4 billion a year.


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AF Thunderbirds return to practice, but more shows could be canceled

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 5:02 PM

            The U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds in the diamond formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show on Saturday, July 23, 2011. STAFF FILE PHOTO
            Ty Greenlees
The U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds in the diamond formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show on Saturday, July 23, 2011. STAFF FILE PHOTO(Ty Greenlees)

The Air Force Thunderbirds return to training over the Nevada desert Wednesday, but have not announced a date the demonstration team will return to the air show circuit, the team’s leader said.

The team had suspended flights and canceled public performances since a tragic April 4 crash killed Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno during practice over the Nevada Test and Training Range.

RELATED: Thunderbirds cancel more air show performances after deadly crash

“While our hearts are still heavy with the loss of our wingman Cajun, we know he’d want us back in the air and preparing to recruit, retain and inspire once more,” Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, team leader, said in a statement Wednesday.

“These flights will focus on maintaining our team’s proficiency with the demanding manuevers of our air demonstration,” Walsh added. “They will also strengthen our confidence following a trying two weeks for the squadron.”

At the same time, the team will support a “robust investigation process” to ensure “the highest level of safety in our operations,” Walsh said.

He cautioned more cancellations of upcoming air shows are possible.

So far, the team canceled shows at March Air Reserve Base in California, in Lakeland, Fla., and upcoming “Wings Over Columbus” air show April 21-22 at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.

A memorial service was recently held for the fallen aviator.

RELATED: Excessive speed blamed for Thunderbird crash in Dayton

he crash was the most serious since a Thunderbird jet flipped over and ran off a runway at Dayton International Airport last June during a familiarization flight, trapping two crewmen until they were rescued by first responders.

An Air Force investigation determined excessive speed and landing too far down on a wet runway contributed to the incident.

The mishap injured then team narrator and F-16 pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves, who was hospitalized for leg injuries, and destroyed the $29.2 million fighter jet on June 23, according to the Air Force. A second crewman who was a backseat passenger in the F-16D jet was uninjured, the Air Force said.

The Thunderbirds are scheduled to appear at the Vectren Dayton Air Show during the 2019 show season.

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A fair with a flavor: 17 countries part of Wright-Patt festival

Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2018 @ 4:14 PM

            Colorfully dressed in costumes, performers gathered at a past international fair of the Wright-Patterson International Spouses Group. CONTRIBUTED
Colorfully dressed in costumes, performers gathered at a past international fair of the Wright-Patterson International Spouses Group. CONTRIBUTED

A party in Dayton had an international flavor Tuesday.

People from 17 countries and more than 120 volunteers came together to celebrate the Wright-Patterson International Spouses Group’s International Fair at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn.

The cultures spanned Japan to the Spain, and Bali to the Philippines, among other places around the globe.

“We do it as thank you to the community for helping us to adjust to the local area and it’s a friendship gathering,” said Inma Kusnierek, of Springfield, co-chairwoman of the group and who is originally from Spain. “It’s just grown and grown and grown.”

Most of the attendees have ties to the Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate, which processes foreign military sales at Wright-Patterson.

The funds raised from the event pay the tuition of one of the spouses or high school graduates to attend college, she said.


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