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America’s Team: Being a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird cover photo

America’s Team: Being a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird 2008


Distributed by Janson Media, 88 Semmons Road, Harrington Park, NJ 07640; 201-784-8488
John Campbell and Paul J. Frederick
Directed by Paul J. Frederick
DVD, color, 88 min.

Military Studies, United States Air Force, Thunderbirds

Date Entered: 11/05/2008

Reviewed by Michael Fein, Coordinator of Library Services, Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg, VA

One of the crowd pleasers, and big draws, for an air show will be one of the military aerobatic teams—be they the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, the Canadian Forces’ Snowbirds, or, in the case of this production, the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds. Founded in 1953 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona the team took its name from the mythical bird of the Indians of the Southwest. The unit’s purpose is to demonstrate the best that the U.S. Air Force has to offer and is a great asset for recruiting and retention. This production presents the human side of this world-renowned team. While the crowds see six jets, many, perhaps most, people do not realize that these six aircraft require approximately twenty support personnel each: ground crew, communications, medical, supply/logistics, and command personnel (among others) all describe their jobs in making this unit run. Units such as this draw the most motivated people and the standards for becoming a Thunderbird are very, very high. We see this thoroughness demonstrated by the fact that for each one-half hour air show there are some fourteen hours of maintenance for each aircraft.

The spotlight of this production is shown on Major Nicole Malachowski, the first female member of the team. We see her home life (she has a husband and children) and, when describing her fan mail, we realize just how humbled she is to be part of such a team.

While the viewer will certainly find the human side of the Thunderbirds touching, perhaps even inspiring, and the behind the scenes descriptions of operations interesting, the highlights of this production are the sometimes breathtaking flight sequences. Seeing jets moving at close to the speed of sound mere feet apart while performing maneuvers that subject the pilots to six Gs is quite something. When viewed on an LCD screen these scenes alone, which are all too few, make this quite an experience.

The sound is quite good and the accompanying synthesized music score suits the images well, but sometimes overwhelms the excellent narration. The special features consist of a tour of the cockpit and another of the outside of one of the Thunderbird’s F-16 jets.

This excellent production is best suited for public libraries and those collections with a military and/or aviation clientele.