Central View: Grounding American aerial teams is penny wise, pound foolish
August 23, 2013
Struggling to get our financial house in order, the geniuses in Washington decided to "sequester" $85 billion of the federal budget.
Thus, different departments of government withdrew funding for certain activities and left other activities to continue to operate. Apparently, no thought was given to whether a particular government activity brought in more federal, state or local tax revenues than its cost of operation.
Two cases in point are America's aerial demonstration teams: the Navy's Blue Angels, and the Air Force's Thunderbirds, which the Pentagon grounded for the entire 2013 air-show season.
For many American communities, the annual air show featuring either the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds provides an enormous economic boost. Using the 2012 season as a model, the appearance of the Blues and the T-birds increased the coffers of local businesses and governments by over $200 million. The annual cost of the Blues is only $37 million — less than 0.01 percent of the Navy's budget. Duh.
Due to the sequester of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, over 70 communities simply cancelled their 2013 air shows. Those that pressed on without the Blues or the T-birds saw a large drop-off in attendance and in local revenues. Some communities brought in aerial demonstration teams from other countries such as Canada's Snowbirds. In a few cases, patriotic local pilots tried their hands at formation flying. But the crowds were much smaller.
Of the 38 nations that have demo teams, only two teams are not performing in 2013: the American teams. The irony is that other nations model their teams after the Blues and the T-Birds. Our teams are American "exceptionalism" at its zenith. Of course, the idea of America being more exceptional than other counties is anathema to the Obama White House, so grounding the teams falls in line with White House thinking. Are the Blues and T-Birds being punished for being the "world's best?" You decide.
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But the teams cannot just be stopped one day and re-started the next. Flying high-performance aircraft at the level of the Blues or T-Birds is a highly-perishable skill. It takes months of practice before the first shows can be performed with safety. The longer the demo teams are grounded, the more time and money it will take to bring them back up to their exceptionally-high standards.
If you have ever seen the Blues or the T-Birds perform, your patriot's chest swells with pride from the moment the pilots come marching out to their aircraft, their bodies in perfect condition and fitted into their way-cool flight suits as they approach the world's best high-performance aircraft and go climbing into the wild blue with wing tips almost touching. But, in today's White House, that's a no-no. To be the world's best, is now considered hubristic and nationalistic.
That the Blues and the T-Birds inspire youngsters to join the military is obvious. But there is a war-deterrent impact to what they do as well. Si vis pacem, para bellum means: "If you want peace, prepare for war." The perfection of our pilots and their aircraft serves as a world-wide warning not to mess with Uncle Sam.
Unfortunately, the grounding of the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds encourages our enemies, discourages our friends, and robs local communities of much needed revenue. Go figure.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.