Air Force Thunderbirds Commander Whose Unit Destroyed A $29 Million Plane Is Fired

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An Air Force F-16 with the Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron sits crashed in a field 4 miles south of Colorado Springs after performing a fly-by of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Reuters

A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds commander under whose command a $29 million aircraft was destroyed has been relieved.

Lt. Col. Jason Heard, who led the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, was relieved of his role on November 20 in a move the Air Force insisted was unrelated to the destruction of the aircraft, The Air Force Times reported.

"While Heard led the team through a highly successful show season, Leavitt lost confidence in his leadership and risk management style," an Air Force press release said after Heard became the first ever Thunderbirds commander to be relieved of his role, by Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt.

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An Air Force F-16 with the Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron sits crashed in a field 4 miles south of Colorado Springs after performing a fly-by of the U.S. Air Force Academy Reuters

"Leavitt determined that new leadership was necessary to ensure the highest levels of pride, precision and professionalism within the team," the release added.

The $29 million plane was destroyed after it skidded off a runway in June; in a highly publicized incident following a flyover at an Air Force Academy graduation that was attended by Barack Obama, ABC News reported.

But in an email to the Air Force Times, Thunderbirds spokesman Maj. Raymond Geoffroy said the decision to relieve Heard of his role was due to a loss of confidence in "Heard's leadership style" as well as an erosion of the team dynamic under his direction.

"This decision was based on Brig. Gen. Leavitt having lost confidence in his leadership in risk management style," the email read. "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. 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," Maj. Geoffroy added.