Refueling the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team as an illustration of how much it takes to get something done

I’m developing a post on the functional allocation issue.  Particularly how expensive it is to conduct ministry in the American cultural context. Part of that discussion will be analogies to the “overhead” it takes the US military to accomplish its mission.

As a lead-in to that idea, consider the following blog post by Jasmine Lee, a photographer who went on a KC-10 flight to refuel some C-17s and the Thunderbird flight demonstration team.

U.S. Air Force Media Flight – Travis Air Force Base… Part I

Some really cool pictures.  A good photographer, decent equipment, flight of F-16s, a tanker to put you 100 feet from said flight, and awe-inspiring skill of the USAF crews combined to produce fabulous photos.

Also an amazing 37 second video of an F-16 sliding into position to draw fuel.

As you look at the pix, consider the amount of effort that is behind the scenes.

The Thunderbird flight team travels with a crew of something in the range of 40 maintainers (at least that is what I recall). Each hour one of the 6 8 Thunderbirds is in the air takes 15 or 19 hours of maintenance time (see this post for a broad range of guesses on mmh/fh). To just do the training before each presentation requires a KC-10 to be on station for three hours (of course they also refueled several C-17s which take a huge amount of fuel). Look at the size of the crew on the tanker.  Then consider that for every hour the KC-10 spent in the air requires maybe 10 or 20 maintenance hours (my guess based on previous link).

So. The awesome presentation by the Thunderbirds took a few days of practice, and each hour in the air by each of the Thunderbirds took perhaps 19 hours of maintenance, with each day of practice calling for a KC-10 to be in orbit to refuel them, which required many hours of planning by the flight crew and perhaps 20 hours of maintenance for each hour in the air.  That is a huge amount of effort and cost.

But if you want that incredible precision flight demonstration, that is what you have to do. If you want F-16s hitting targets in combat, that is a good start to the effort to put up a strike.

Likewise, if you want to have a ministry that accomplishes incredible things for God, you have to put in a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work.

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