Air Force relieves commander of Thunderbirds

Paul Nicholls / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) —  The commander of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, famously known as the Thunderbirds, was relieved last week after the Air Force determined it had “lost confidence” in his leadership style.

Lt. Col. Jason Heard is the first Thunderbirds commander to be relieved of duty.

The Thunderbirds, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, are the Air Force’s flying aerobatic team. They perform for audiences across the country.

According to an Air Force press release, Heard lead the Thunderbirds “through a highly successful show season,” but Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander, “lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style.”

“Leavitt determined that new leadership was necessary to ensure the highest levels of pride, precision and professionalism within the team,” the release stated.

Leavitt was said the decision was “incredibly difficult to make,” but added it was in the “best interests of the Thunderbird team.”

The team’s former operations officer has temporarily assumed responsibility.

In June 2016, a Thunderbird F-16 crashed just outside Petersen Air Force Base in Colorado Springs shortly after performing a flyover at the nearby Air Force Academy graduation, where President Barack Obama was in attendance.

Obama met with the pilot, who was not seriously injured, afterward at Petersen Air Force Base and thanked him for his service, the White House said at the time.

This past June, excessive airspeed, coupled with the pilot landing too far down a wet runway, contributed to a Thunderbird F-16 flipping over at the Dayton International Airport, one day before an air show. That pilot was injured following the crash.

An Air Force official told ABC News the 2017 incident was unrelated to this month’s leadership change for the Thunderbirds.

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