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Up in the April Skies Published on: May 22, 2020

It’s a little after 12 noon, April 28, 2020, a firefighter is up 100 feet up in the air, with the wind whistling around him.  After climbing to the top of the aerial ladder of a Madison firetruck, as high as it could go, he scans the skies to see any sign of the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds of the Air Force, flying in formation.  Whoa – two faint streams of white can be seen in the distance, streaking side by side over the distance hills!

About fifteen minutes earlier, I was on Main Street, Chatham, texting my niece in Brooklyn, about this exciting event.  She went out to her backyard to see if she could see any of the action.

“I can hear them, but can’t see them” Olivia texted back.

A Berkeley Heights friend, Robert Allard, excitedly caught sight of the jet formation as he drove up McCarter Highway, Newark.  Other motorists looked up in awe.  Onlookers in Newark and other Essex locations watched the spectacle.

“These flyovers are a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the entire Department of Defense to the heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic” stated the Thunderbird Commander and Lead Pilot, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Caldwell.  Healthcare workers, First Responders, and Essential Workers were all being saluted and honored by this awesome fly-over. 

After leaving the New York area, the two formations headed south, flying over Trenton and Philadelphia by 2 p.m. to complete their day’s mission.  A uniformed bag-pipe player offered up a song to them from the NJ State Police Headquarters in West Trenton.

The Blue Angels, established in 1946, by order of U.S. Navy Admiral Charles W. Nimitz, are painted royal blue with a yellow accent.  Their original squadron members picked the name “Blue Angels” from a well-known NYC nightclub.

In 1953 the Air Force’s Thunderbirds were organized.  At that time, their home base was the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.  The name “Thunderbirds” acknowledged the Native American culture and history.  They chose the colors red, white, and blue.

The Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels normally do not fly within 150 feet of each other without special permission.  This April 2020 fly-over was not spontaneous.  Over a month of planning and coordination between the two teams and government offices were held to create this memorable event.

The evening news report that night showed healthcare workers gathered in a park in Weehawken, NJ, looking up in the sky at the breathtaking formation of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels zooming over them.  To see the awed and happy expressions on these people’s faces proved that it was a beautiful, much appreciated tribute. 

– Liz Holler

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