Air Force Thunderbird jets upgraded, now even more amazing

The U.S. Air Force flight demonstration squadron, otherwise known as the Thunderbirds, recently upgraded their aircraft to the latest Lockheed Martin F-16 C/D (Block 52) Fighting Falcons for their 2009 season of mind-bending flight demos. Besides the enhanced avionics on board, inside each fighter jet lurks the awesome power of the latest Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine, spinning up 29,160 lb of thrust, giving each of the six aircraft an extra 3,600 pounds' worth of oomph to knock our socks off.

We saw these crazy flyboys slam-dunking their harrowing routine yesterday in Milwaukee, and we're here to tell you, those new engines kick serious ass. Now the F-16 C/Ds can take off and immediately rocket straight up, forming their signature diamond formation as they execute the Diamond Loop. In the most startling part of the demonstration, one of the jets flew close to us (it felt like a few feet overhead) with the afterburner cranked up to the maximum. It was the loudest roar we've ever heard from an aircraft.

Further demonstrating the serious power of these new engines was one of these daredevil pilots, holding his jet in a near-hover, and then flying straight up at breakneck speed, in what seemed to be a physically impossible maneuver. The rest of the performance was filled with dazzling flybys at nearly the speed of sound, dozens of intentional near-misses, and flying prowess graceful enough to be called art. All we can say is, we're glad these guys are on our side.