Thunderbirds commander relieved of duties

(Photo: DJ France)

(WDTN) — The commander of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds has been relieved of his duties.

In a release from Nellis Air Force Base, Brig.General Jeannie Leavitt said, “This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one that is ultimately in the best interests of the Thunderbird team.”

“I am personally grateful for Jason’s dedication to the 2017 season.”

Photo: U.S. Air Force

The news release said Leavitt lost confidence in Heard’s leadership and risk management style.

Heard had led the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron since Jan. 6. He was relieved on November 20th, at the conclusion of the 2017 season, according to the Air Force.

The release from the Air Force went on to say, “Leavitt determined that new leadership was necessary to ensure the highest levels of pride, precision and professionalism within the team.”

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh has temporarily assumed responsibility of the team until a new commander is named.

The Thunderbirds had a highly publicized mishap in Dayton during Heard’s tenure. In June, as the Thunderbirds were preparing for the Vectren Dayton Air Show, an F-16D crashed when it landed too fast, skidded off a wet runway and overturned in the grass, injuring the pilot, according to an Accident Investigation Board. The $29 million aircraft was destroyed.


Heard’s removal was unrelated to that incident, according to Maj. Raymond Geoffroy, a spokesman for the Thunderbirds.

“This decision was based on Brig. Gen. Leavitt having lost confidence in his leadership in risk management style,” Geoffroy said in an email to Air Force Times. “While he led a highly successful 2017 show season featuring 72 demonstrations over 39 show sites, concerns arose that his approach to leading the team was resulting in increased risk within the demonstration, which eroded the team dynamic.

“The team dynamic in the Thunderbirds is absolutely unique,” Geoffroy said. “We are on the road together more than 200 days per year, executing flying operations with absolutely no margin for error. As a result, absolute trust and teamwork in both our professional and personal dynamics are foundational to our mission.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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