TURKU, Finland — On both sides of every U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcon, there’s a colorful, square panel that displays the flags of all the countries in the world where the team has performed. The Thunderbirds had the privilege of adding a new flag to the panel June 18.
For the first time in its 58-year history, the Air Force’s premier jet demonstration team performed in the country of Finland. The Thunderbirds headlined “Turku Air Show 2011,” which also featured Finland’s own Midnight Hawks.
After the show, the team conducted a brief ceremony to commemorate the historic occasion. Lt. Col. Case Cunningham, the Thunderbirds commander and flight leader, and his crew chief, Tech. Sgt. Paul Degrechie, pulled off the old flag panel decal to reveal the new one.
“It’s an amazing honor to be the first Thunderbirds team to perform in Finland,” Colonel Cunningham said. “Representing America’s Airmen in other countries around the world is truly a privilege.
“Finland is a great friend to the U.S., and I hope this is just the first of many Thunderbirds performances here.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this weekend since last December when the Thunderbirds schedule was released,” said Jyri Mattila, a Finnish F-18 test pilot and one of the show coordinators. “Seeing the Thunderbirds perform in my country and getting the opportunity to work directly with them could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They are an amazing team of professionals, both in the air and on the ground.”
The Thunderbirds are approximately halfway through their six-week 2011 European tour. Before the Finland show, the team performed in Cigli Air Base, Turkey; Constanta, Romania; Jesolo, Italy; and Karup AB, Denmark. Next on the schedule is Graf Ignatievo AB, Bulgaria, followed by shows at Royal Air Force Waddington, United Kingdom, and Koksijde AB, Belgium.
This year marks the Thunderbirds’ 58th season as the Air Force’s “Ambassadors in Blue.” From mid-March until mid-November every year, the team travels around the country and abroad, showcasing the integrity, selfless service and excellence embodied by American Airmen everywhere. Part of the unit’s mission is to represent the U.S. armed forces to foreign countries and project international goodwill.