Visitors to the Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort had something more than the rides and other attractions to enjoy this week. In celebration of the park’s 50th anniversary, along with the United States Air Force’s 75th, the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron – known as the Thunderbirds – took part in a flight over Cinderella’s Castle on Thursday.
It officially kicked off Disney’s celebration of National Veterans and Military Families month. Since it first began in 1996, November serves as the time to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices made by military families.
In its recent demonstration, the Air Force’s premier aviators soared 500 feet over Cinderella Castle and then down Main Street. The world-famous Thunderbirds also performed precision aerial maneuvers, including the crowd-pleasing “delta break” where they accelerated rapidly and in different directions and offered a display of their flying abilities.
The flyover was particularly special as the pilot flying the #4 jet, U.S. Air Force Major Zane Taylor is the son of a retired Disney executive, and had grown up near Walt Disney World. Taylor had often dreamt of flying over the Magic Kingdom in his F-16 Fighting Falcon, and that dream came true on Thursday – which was his second to last show of the season before he moves on to his next assignment with the U.S. Air Force.
“I spent my childhood watching the amazing live shows at Walt Disney World with my family,” said Taylor. “Who knew that exposure would serve me so well when I was tasked with building the new Thunderbird show in 2020.”
Thunderbirds Are Go
The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron regularly performs precision aerial maneuvers demonstrating the capabilities of Air Force high-performance aircraft to people throughout the world. The Thunderbirds further exhibit the professional qualities the Air Force develops in the people who fly, maintain, and support these aircraft.
The squadron is an Air Combat Command unit composed of eight pilots – including six demonstration pilots – four support officers, three civilians, and more than 130 enlisted personnel performing in 25 career fields. Each of the Thunderbirds’ air demonstrations includes a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The four-aircraft diamond formation demonstrates the training and precision of Air Force pilots, while the solo aircraft highlight the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The pilots perform approximately 30 maneuvers in a demonstration. The entire show, including ground and air, runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. The Thunderbird season lasts from March to November, with the winter months used to train new members.
Flying High Over Florida
It wasn’t just visitors to the happiest place on earth who would have a chance to see the Thunderbirds. The demonstration team was in the Sunshine State throughout the weekend for the 2022 Orlando Air And Space Show and will be joined by the F-18 Rhino Demo Team, the F-22 Raptor Demo Team, and the SOCOM Para-Commandos.
In addition, attendees to the airshow will be able to take in a Navy Legacy Flight that will feature a F/A-18 Super Hornet and F4U Corsair formation that showcases the past and future of Naval aviation.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.