Standing in a steady drizzle and flanked by the nation’s top military leaders, President Donald Trump turned the National Mall into an airshow Thursday evening as aircraft from all four services and the Coast Guard roared over the Lincoln Memorial in a loud, proud celebration of the birth of America 243 years ago.
Trump spent the first part of his “Salute to America” speech extolling the virtues of those who founded this nation, an event in history that would not have happened without military might.
“The British had come to crush the Revolution in its infancy,” said Trump. “Washington’s message to his troops laid bare the stakes. He wrote, ‘The fate of unborn millions will now depend under God on the courage and conduct of this army. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die.”
About 20 minutes later, Trump invited Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford to flank him at the podium. And then the skies above began to roar.
The flyovers actually began before Trump arrived, with a VC-25, the Boeing jet that becomes “Air Force One” when a president is aboard.
But the real homage to air power came after Trump summed up the history of five military services.
First up was the Coast Guard, which provided two helicopters, an HH-60 Pave Hawk and an HH-65 Dolphin from Air Station Atlantic City and an AC-144 Ocean Sentry from Air Station Miami.
Next, it was the Air Force, which sent two F-22 Raptor fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and a B-2 Spirit steal bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
A short while later, the Navy sent two F/A-18F Super Hornets from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and two F-35C Lightnings from Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.
The fighter jets were followed by a Sikorsky VH-92 helicopter, soon to be the new Marine One that flies the president, along with two V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from Quantico.
That was followed by a flight of four of the Army’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, from an origination point the president did not mention.
And the grand finale, as far as the air component of the event, came as six F/A 18 Hornets from the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team first flew over the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial then a short while later, flew back the other way over the memorial.
The Washington Post estimated the cost of the flyovers at more than $500,000 per hour.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.