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Visiting the USAF Thunderbirds Museum at Nellis

Welcome to the Home of the USAF Thunderbirds - Photo: Mal Muir -

Welcome to the Home of the USAF Thunderbirds – Photo: Mal Muir /

Since 1953 the Thunderbirds have been the premier Air Demonstration team for the United States Air Force.  Flying a range of different aircraft from F-84s to F-105s to the current F16, whatever the Air Force flew, so did the Thunderbirds.

Based at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, the Thunderbirds spend their time here practicing and training. Nellis is also where you will find the Thunderbird Museum, which I got to check out during a recent trip to Vegas.

When they are not training they will be on the  road, wowing crowds from one side of the country to the other.

Thunderbird Hangar - Photo: Mal Muir -

Thunderbird Hangar – Photo: Mal Muir /

The Museum is open Year round from Monday to Friday, but it’s inside the base perimeter, so that means you would need a reason to be on the base to see it.  However for one weekend a year they open it to the public as part of the Aviation Nation Airshow.

The Airshow also marks the closing of the Thunderbirds season as it is the last tour stop of the year.

A fully painted Thunderbirds F16 Gate Guard - Photo: Mal Muir -

A fully painted Thunderbirds F16 Gate Guard – Photo: Mal Muir /

The Museum is home to not only a full size F-16 Gate Guard (in full Thunderbird paint scheme) but it is also home to a number of artifacts and memorabilia that have been presented to the Thunderbirds as they toured the world.  Helmets, caps, scarves, patches, you name it, they have it and all on display showcasing all the people and places they have visited.

Thunderbird Memorobilia fills the Museum - Photo: Mal Muir -

Thunderbird Memorobilia fills the Museum – Photo: Mal Muir /

The first area that will attract your attention is the VIP room where a list of current, former and honorary member names cover the wall.  It’s where VIPs will visit and meet with the crew & staff at the hangar.

The area has warm wood paneling, statues and memorabilia appropriate to this boardroom feeling, but the thing that dominates is the mural that covers the wall.  It depicts all of the aircraft that the Thunderbirds have flown flying in formation.  A truly wondrous depiction — if only it were a real photograph.

This mural dominates the VIP Room Wall - Photo: Mal Muir -

This mural dominates the VIP Room Wall – Photo: Mal Muir –

The second area is the briefing room/theater.  During the museum opening hours a short 10 minute video on the Thunderbirds is played for visitors and they can soak in the atmosphere while they enjoy it.

Covering the walls in the theater are heaps of original art work, all painted by former or current members of the Thunderbirds staff and crew.

Unique Art Work decorates the walls of the Theatre & Breifing Room - Photo: Mal Muir -

Unique Art Work decorates the walls of the Theatre & Breifing Room – Photo: Mal Muir /

If you ever get the chance to come visit Aviation Nation or Nellis Air Force Base, a visit to the Thunderbirds Hangar is a must. I know that I enjoyed my time there. Next task, to get a ride on one of the F-16s.

This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent.

Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.

@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos

Last Tupolev TU-154 Delivered – 16 Years After Production Ceases

Tupolev TU-154 (OM-BYO) in Slovakian Government livery. Photo by Jason Rabinowitz.

Tupolev TU-154 (OM-BYO) in Slovakian Government livery. Photo by Jason Rabinowitz.

Last week, a chapter of Soviet aviation has been closed forever. Over 40 years after its entry into service, the final Tupolev Tu-154 has been delivered to the Russian Defense Ministry, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Although full production ceased back in 1997, the Tu-154 remained in limited production for quite some time, with a final total of over 1000 airframes produced. The first Tu-154 was delivered to Aeroflot on February 7, 1972.

The Tu-154 was the last of the commercial “tri-jets” in production, outlasting popular aircraft such as Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and Boeing 727 by several decades, both of which saw ther last deliveries in 1984.

Designed to be the workhorse of the Soviet aviation industry, flying into some of the harshest airfields in the world, the Tu-154 went places other jet powered aircraft of its size could not. With its oversized landing gear, the Tu-154 was even able to land on unpaved runways.

Contrary to popular belief, the Tu-154 was not an unsafe aircraft. According to the the Aviation Safety Network, the Soviet built aircraft has been involved in 110 serious incidents, 68 of which resulted in a hull loss, 30 of which saw no deaths. Several incidents were the direct result of terrorism or military action, poor weather and runway conditions, as well as pilot error and poor maintenance. Comparatively, the Boeing 737 has been involved in 159 hull-loss accidents, though over 7,000 737s have been produced.

A string of recent high profile accidents accelerated the withdrawal of the Tu-154 from passenger service. Most notably, on April 10, 2010, a Polish Air Force Tu-154 carrying many high level government officials, including the President of Poland, crashed near the city of Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 on board. That accident was blamed not on the aircraft, but on pilot error. These accidents prompted the Russian Federal Bureau of Aviation in March 2011 to recommend the withdrawal remaining Tu-154s from passenger service.

As of early 2012, 104 Tu-154s remained in service with various airlines throughout the world, as well as several military operators. The Russian aerospace industry has yet to produce a strong competitor for Boeing and Airbus. The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is Russia’s latest attempt at competing, but only 223 have been ordered thus far, and competition from countries such as China and Japan is heating up.

The Tu-154 will forever has a place in aviation history as a tank of an aircraft. Going where other aircraft wouldn’t even dream, this Soviet designed aircraft stood the test of time, ending up a black eye or two along the way.

This story written by… Jason Rabinowitz, Correspondent.

Jason is a New York City native who has grown up in the shadow of JFK International Airport. A true “avgeek”, he enjoys plane spotting and photography, as well taking any opportunity he can get to fly on an aircraft.

@AirlineFyer | FaceBook |

Air New Zealand’s New Saftey Video Starring Bear Grylls

Air New Zealand is not stranger to interesting safety videos and this is the newest of the collection starring adventurer Bear Grylls. Unlike other safety videos, which normally take place inside an airline cabin, this video takes place in the great outdoors. During the video Bear runs into entomologist Ruud Kleinpaste and local New Zealand animals like the Tuatara (lizard), Kia (bird), and Weta (insect).

More than just a video, there is also a contest where you can win a trip to New Zealand. Count how many times you see the Moa (that big crazy looking bird) and enter at

Other Classic Air New Zealand Safety Videos:

Airline Livery of the Week: Air Malta

Air Malta Airbus. Photo by skypics intl.

Air Malta’s first aircraft (9H-AEK) seen in new livery. Photo by Peter Cook.

Air Malta is headquartered at Malta International Airport in Luqa. It was founded in 1973 and is currently 98% owned by the Maltese government and 2% by private investors.

They currently operate a fleet of ten aircraft made up of Airbus A320 and A319. In September 2012, Air Malta unveiled their new livery on an Airbus A320 (9H-AEN) at the Malta International Airshow. The new livery is just part of the airline’s restructuring to move it into profitability.

BONUS VIDEO: Air Malta races a Airbus A319’s against a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

The new livery is just plane-fun (that spelling was done on purpose). Their old livery didn’t look too shabby, but looks better as a historical design versus the current one.

Turns out the same firm that designed the new American Airlines livery, FutureBrand, also designed this new one for Air Malta. I am guessing there is less controversy on that tail for Air Malta.

CONNECT WITH AIR MALTA: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

Taking a Look at New Seattle Startup Airline Using a Piaggio: Arrow

A Piaggio P 180 Avanti II at Boeing Field (BFI). Image by Colin Cook / Air

A Piaggio P 180 Avanti II at Boeing Field (BFI). Image by Colin Cook /

It’s not every day that you hear about a new airline starting service. With the immensely strong barriers to entry including existing airlines, financing issues, and federal regulations, there are not many new airlines founded today. Anymore, it seems like the industry is consolidating via mergers, but Arrow is aiming to show that new niche airlines can succeed even in this economy. This new airline is banking on people valuing their time and wanting to avoid the hassle of traveling with traditional airlines and long security lines. I had the opportunity to meet with Arrow CEO Russell Belden this past Monday and take a flight from Seattle to Oakland (and back).

Arrow is unique in few ways. First of which is that it is a private club in which people can purchase memberships ($500 per month with a one year commitment) and then have access to purchase tickets on their aircraft. But unlike other private jet services which operate similarly, Arrow will have scheduled services.

They are planning to launch Seattle (out of Boeing Field – BFI) to Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC), which will cost members about $500 each way. The ticket costs are comparable to a first class ticket on other airlines serving similar routes.

Once Arrow receives 200 membership commitments they will purchase their initial aircraft and make plans to begin service within three months (delivery time-frame for a new plane).

The interior of the Piaggio. Photo by Colin Cook /

The interior of the Piaggio. Photo by Colin Cook /

Arrow has a target market of business professionals who have much better things to do than simply wait in line. Sure, a flight on Arrow might cost slightly more than a typical first or business class ticket, but isn’t a CEO’s time exceptionally valuable?

Arrow believes they will be able to shave off as much as two hours simply due to eliminating the added hassles of the typical airport experience. With on-board Wi-Fi to be installed on their new aircraft, it will also enable professionals to keep in constant contact and be productive at 30,000 feet. While our test flight did not have Wi-Fi on board, we actually had an intermittent signal on our mobile phones throughout the journey.

She looks as good coming as she does going. Image by Colin Cook /

She looks as good coming as she does going. Image by Colin Cook /

Arrow has selected quite a distinctive aircraft for their new service – the Piaggio P 180 Avanti II. Looking at the plane, one immediately notices the propellers are facing to the rear. The aircraft is often mistaken for being the Beechcraft Starship with their similar layouts.

This technology enables the aircraft to move quite quickly for a propeller driven plane, reduces turbulence, and makes for a quiet passenger experience. The continuous curvature of the fuselage, starting from the very front, actually provides about 20% of the lift which enables the wings to be smaller. Smaller wings ultimately reduce turbulence which is of course a big win. So even though you are flying in a small plane, we encountered very little turbulence on our flight.

Landing the Piaggio Avanti. Photo by Colin Cook /

Landing the Piaggio Avanti. Photo by Colin Cook /

Fun Fact: We should expect such distinctive design from Piaggio given its Italian heritage. Oh, and Piaggio is owned by Ferrari. The largest operator of the Avanti is the Italian Air Force who uses it for various uses including utility transport operations. If you’ve got a cool seven million dollars, I’d highly recommend adding this plane to your collection!

I asked Mr. Belden why they selected Piaggio and he told me this really was the best option for their planned services. The Avanti II is a very efficient aircraft, burning roughly 100-120 gallons (800 pounds) of fuel per hour. Compared to similar sized jets, this represents approximate 30% improvement. Not only is this aircraft highly efficient, but it can certainly keep up with many private jets.

Our cruising speed was around Mach 0.68 or nearly 500 miles per hour. Even though we had a 70 MPH headwind on the way to California, we still made it in just over two hours. And the return flight was a mere 90 minutes — not bad. Combine that with a comfortable cabin and a quiet passenger experience and you have an aircraft that Arrow believes is destined to succeed.

The Avanti II is certified to operate with either one or two pilots, but Arrow plans to operate with two.

Part of their allure is treating customers like they are rock stars. Rather than needing to be at the airport some 60-90 minutes before a flight, Arrow only asks their passengers to arrive 10-15 minutes prior to departure. But that’s not the only way they save time for their clients. Say you need a rental car or town car at your destination? Arrow will have one waiting for you on the tarmac outside the plane.

One might notice that the colors chosen for the new airline (yellow and black) and the font might look familiar with another Seattle-based small carrier: Kenmore Air.

With a limited number of Air Carrier Certificates and the lengthy process required to obtain one, Arrow has hired Kenmore Air to operate their new service. The planes will still have the Arrow branding, but Kenmore will perform maintenance, operate the service, and the flights will have the Kenmore call sign.

You might want to try and use the restroom before take off.

You might want to try and use the restroom before take off.

As far as pilots, Kenmore Director of Flight Operations Thomas Tilson told me that depending on overall demand, they will utilize a 50/50 mix of existing Kenmore pilots and also hire new ones. This is also not the first time that Kenmore has helped other airlines get off the ground (pun intended).

“We get approached all the time,” Tilson explained to “Kenmore has done multiple contractual and theoretical planning analyses for companies around the world. We really specialize in turn-key planning efforts. Kenmore really is the world’s authority on float plane operations and translating that success to other areas of the world. For example, we have done planning for operations in China and other places in Asia and South America.”

If this route succeeds, Arrow will begin promoting a LA Area to Bay Area service. Similarly to using two less traveled airports in the Bay Area, they are planning to fly into Long Beach and Burbank in the LA area. Future target markets will be big cities that are 300-800 miles apart as they determined that distance really allows for maximum profitability. If they have success on the west coast, they are considering future city pairs of Boston/Washington D.C., Chicago/New York, and Atlanta/Miami among others.

While Arrow will fly into some lesser traveled airports, they are certainly flying into large markets. In another time saving measure, rather than having to taxi to the main terminal after landing, they have contracted with the local Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to handle their aircraft. The FBO will essentially handle all ground operations for Arrow including fuelling, catering, and rental car services. The other nice part is that generally speaking, Arrow won’t have to queue up and land on the main runway that major carriers must use. For example, Oakland has two runways designed specifically for small aircraft that are located near the FBO.

Arrow's infographic showing time saved by flying them.

Arrow’s infographic showing time saved by flying them.

The biggest challenges facing Arrow will come from established carriers already serving the markets which Arrow enters. While they will not have nearly the capacity that many other carriers have (the Avanti II will be configured to seat nine), Arrow still poses a threat to win business travelers with their superior product.

After experiencing their product this week, I wish them nothing but success going forward.


This story written by…Colin Cook, Correspondent.Colin is an avid AvGeek who works in finance and is based in the Seattle area. He has an immense passion for aviation and loves to travel as much as possible.@CRoscoe2121