Inconvenient Truths About This Year’s Duluth Air Show

Duluth Air Show

Squandering the Planet’s Increasingly Scarce Fossil Fuels for our Amusement

“Knowledge is power; but who hath duly Considered the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavor to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations.” — George Eliot, from the author’s last novel, Daniel Deronda

The Big Oil cartels have, for decades, been poisoning the air, the aquifers, the rivers, the lakes the air, the soil and the Gulf of Mexico, the Persian Gulf and every ocean and ocean floor on the planet with uncounted millions of gallons of toxic crude oil via their risky – and very leaky – deep water oil wells. It wasn’t just the crime against the planet that British Petroleum and Dick Cheney’s Halliburton perpetrated in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. There are many other entities that have contributed to the mortal wounding of the Gulf, and one of the big ones is the US military.

A prime example of the damage done to the Gulf by corporate entities includes the Mississippi River delta’s massive dead zone that has been enlarging rapidly for decades, thanks to the many corporate polluters that have been dumping industrial waste, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, prescription drugs and other toxins into surface water streams and rivers (and aquifers also) to flow downstream from such professedly “environmentally friendly” states like Minnesota and its multitude of Big Oil, Big Chemical and Big Agribusiness-co-opted (or duped) farmers. Big Businesses like those meet the definition of sociopaths and therefore must be recognized as conscienceless.

There are hundreds of enlarging dead zones at the mouths of all of the world’s major rivers, but much of the pollution that caused the huge dead zone at the Mississippi River’s mouth started in the Upper Midwest’s farmlands. Especially guilty were the corporate-controlled mega-farms that routinely over-used synthetic herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides on the crops and soil. (See for more details.)

As I was growing up, I often fished in the upper Minnesota River. Just during my adolescent years, I witnessed the beginnings of the pollution of that river because of farm chemical runoff.  I saw the river go from swimmable and fishable to muddy, smelly, toxic and relatively fishless.

So far the corporate criminals in the Big Oil, Big Chemical and Big Agribusiness cartels have been making economic decisions that are “good for the elites and their investment portfolios” but “bad for the planet and the  commoners”. Those criminal enterprises, in collusion with Wall Street, Big Finance, Big Food, Big Mining, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, and the Pentagon entities keep escaping punishment with barely a slap on the wrist from the ever-weakened regulatory agencies that know that those groups are contributing to the slow death of our poisoned planet and it’s air, soil, food and water resources. And, just like Wall Street and the Big Bank’s predatory lenders – that have had controlling power in all recent administrations since Ronald Reagan’s corporate controlled administration – the corporate elites are still awarding themselves lavish bonuses and getting everything they want from their bribed legislators and co-opted Supreme Court justices.

The Pentagon – Along With the US Navy’s Blue Angels and the US Air Force’s Thunderbirds – has Joined Big Oil, Big Chemical and Big Agribusiness in Polluting the Air, Water and Soil

Of course, the history of petroleum pollution of the once pristine, fertile and life-giving waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the watersheds upstream didn’t just start with Big Oil’s inadvisable – and very risky – deep water drilling.

In 1946, flush with pride at (allegedly) winning WWII (ignoring the fact that the USSR inflicted 80 % of the casualties that Germany experienced and suffered 80% of the casualties that Germany inflicted on all of its enemy combatants), the US Department of the Navy established a base of naval air operations on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. For the purpose of recruiting pilots to the Navy and raising unit morale it started performing airshows for the public, and the Blue Angels flying team was born. The Gulf has been its base of operations ever since, first at Jacksonville, Florida (until 1950), then at Corpus Christi, Texas (from 1950 to 1954), and finally at its permanent home at Pensacola, Florida.

The Angels began petrochemical-poisoning the Gulf when the Navy found it advisable to have its fighter jets dump excess fuel over the Gulf just prior to landing, thus decreasing the remote possibility of a lethal fireball engulfing the plane and pilot in case of a crash landing. No records seem to have been kept quantifying the volume or frequency of such fuel dumps, and, simply out of ignorance or arrogance, no environmental impact study was ever done or even considered. I have heard that the Blue Angels have discontinued fuel dumping a number of years ago when the price of fuel rose dramatically; so now they only dump fuel before landing in certain emergencies.

JP-5 Jet Propellant is Highly Toxic Whether Burned or Dumped

The current Blue Angels F-18s use a highly toxic propellant fuel, a recent permutation of which is called JP-5. And the many additives do not burn clean, no matter what the US Navy or Air Force says.

JP-5 is actually a highly refined kerosene that also contains a complex mixture of volatile chemical additives that can be toxic to liver, brain, kidney and immune systems.

The post-combustion exhaust from jet engines is an equally carcinogenic polluter of air, water and soil that can then be poisonous to human, non-humans and plant and aquatic life.

The military personnel who handle the JP-5 fuel are at high risk of being poisoned by inhaling either the raw fumes or the engine exhaust. Those exposed can easily develop, in a delayed fashion, chronic illnesses because of the toxicity of the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs).

The Sobering Economics of Military Air Shows

The fuel consumption data for the US Navy’s Blue Angel and US Air Force’s Thunderbird air shows are generally kept secret – and for good reasons. The alarmingly high fuel consumption would tend to dampen the enthusiasm of all but the most patriotic and thrill-seeking ticket-buyers.

The aviation industry says that JP-5 jet fuel costs 2-3 times more than automotive fuel. A few years back JP-5 cost the Pentagon between $8 and $12/gallon!

The Duluthairshow is Back Again

In 2014, the Blue Angels were in Duluth, MN, headlining the periodic stunt-flying air shows, which many of those critical of US militarism, US imperialism and US exceptionalism derogatorily call the DulutHairshow). During the 2014 pre-show promotional build-up, a local reporter for the Duluth News-Tribune was given a publicity ride, and he enthusiastically wrote in his column that the jet burned 1,200 gallons of fuel per hour! That number should sober up every thinking person, for a very fuel-efficient car (that gets 40 mpg) could drive 48,000 miles on 1,200 gallons.

Back in 2014, 1,200 gallons of JP-5 cost the military upwards of $12,000 (at $10/gallon). If one multiplied that consumption by 6 (the number of jets in each Blue Angels performing team) the fuel costs would be $72,000 per hour  just for the fuel used up in the performance. And that is not counting the daily practice sessions that also last an hour. And those costs didn’t factor in the fuel consumption for the round trip to Florida and back for each of the 70 air shows that the Blue Angels do in a typical year. Do the math and you will start to reconsider the wisdom of supporting such environmentally-insensitive and earth-unsustainable entertainment events.

The next month, on Bastille Day of 2014 (July 14) eight USAF Thunderbird F-16 jets arrived in Duluth along with the obligatory C-17 cargo plane carrying 30 support staff and spare parts for the jets (for air shows the support contingent usually numbers 50-55 members).

The next day, 6 of the Thunderbirds left Duluth to do a 10 second flyover for the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star game at Target Field in Minneapolis – the only reason for them to be in Minnesota:!

The flyover was to coincide with the last strains of the Star Spangled Banner. Two spare jets, who made the trip for nothing except as back-ups, were left sitting on the tarmac in Duluth. The News Tribune reporter covering that story wrote that “each of the multi-million dollar fighter jets will consume about 500 gallons of fuel to make the 30 minute round trip to and from Minneapolis.

We’re talking big bucks every time either the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels perform or practice – as they are doing for their acrobatic show in 2018, even if one acknowledges that a portion of the costs are covered by civilian event sponsors. But there is more to understand about US military air shows that should raise additional concerns.

A Duluth News-Tribune reporter covering one of Duluth’s past air shows wrote that the commanding officer of one of the flight teams was required to fly a minimum of 3,000 training hours (paid for by the US taxpayer) in order to qualify for the role of commander. The other team members had to fly 1,350 training hours. The reporter noted in that article that there were a total of 15 pilots in the team, although only 6 perform at a time. The team members (the subs as well as prime time flyers) practice their highly technical and dangerous stunts virtually every day of the year in order to keep their skills honed and the air shows safe.

A Short History of US Military Air Shows and Some More Sobering Math

As of 2006, there had reportedly been 230 fighter pilots since the Blue Angels started their stunt-flying for audiences. Since the Angels began flying in 1946, about 25 of their pilots have died in crashes, which means that as many as 25 multimillion-dollar planes probably went down in the  crashes (this figure does not factor in the number of planes that were demolished while the pilot survived by ejecting safely). In 2011, 70 Blue Angel air shows (two shows per weekend) were presented at 35 different sites, with rehearsal flights the day before each performance. When they are not touring, the Blue Angels practice their routines year-round, usually over the Gulf of Mexico at their Pensacola base of operations.

Using the figures that the journalist obtained from the Blue Angels, the 3,000 hours of training for the single Commanding Officer (CO) used up as many as 2,400,000 gallons of jet fuel just to qualify (3,000 hours X 800 gallons/hour)! Of course, this training number does not include the equally enormous amounts of fuel consumed during the air show performances, the rehearsals or the flights to and from Pensacola.

The 1,350 training hours for the other pilots on the team (at one time there were as many as 15 pilots on the Blue Angels teams) consumed as much as 1,080,000 gallons for each pilot’s training (1,350 hours X 800 gallons/hour). Multiply that by 14 non-CO pilots and you get 15,120,000 gallons of fuel just for the hours spent training those pilots.

Considering the fact that in 2012, a gallon of JP-5 jet fuel cost around $8 to $12/gallon (average $10/gallon), every new Navy pilot who succeeds at becoming a Blue Angel pilot cost the US taxpayer approximately $10,080,000 per pilot (1,080,000 gallons X $10/gallon) – just for the fuel used to become a member of the team! And the 10 million dollars is not factoring in the airmen’s salaries, the retirement pensions or the tens of millions of dollars that each jet costs.

I challenge readers to try to estimate in  dollar figures the enormous fuel costs for all of the US military shows/year, and then try to calculate the fuel used up in the flights to and from Pensacola or Las Vegas (in the case of the Thunderbirds). And then add in the costs of the huge transport planes that carry all the repair parts and the 50 – 55 support crew members in supply and maintenance.

Of course, the costs to the American taxpayer are impossible to calculate precisely, but surely it must be billions of dollars per year, admittedly partly offset by ticket sales. Nevertheless, since so many of America’s economic and military wars are for control of oil, the burning of precious fuel for whatever reason must be taken into account if and when the future of fuel-wasting military air shows is to be re-considered.

Squandering Increasingly Scarce Fossil Fuel for our Amusement

In 2016 the USAF Thunderbirds headlined the Duluth Air Show. And in 2017 the Blue Angels were back for what used to be biannual shows. There will be a number of other participants, all using up increasingly scarce petroleum products for purposes of entertainment and the recruitment of starry-eyed, vulnerable young boys (and girls) who are being primed, partly because of their extensive experience with first person shooter videogames, to want to join the death-dealing military professions that make homicidal violence normal and attractive.

The world is over-populated and heading for a catastrophic economic and climate change cliff, so isn’t it about time for people to get serious about the worrisome realities above? We live in a world of dwindling, irreplaceable fossil fuel resources that are cavalierly being squandered by thousands of corporate misleaders on Wall Street and War Street, including Big Oil, Big Agribusiness, Big Chemical, Big Food, Big Media and Big Armaments. Each of these industries – in one way or another – profits from wars and rumors of war, and so the mesmerizing beat goes on.

Too many military veterans are now physically, neurologically and/or spiritually dead or dying (way too often by suicide – 22 per day for active duty soldiers and veterans combined). They were seduced by the pseudo-patriotic jingoism coming from the “military-industrial complex” during the best years of their lives. And then they were sacrificed, not for American “democracy”, but for capitalism and the money-hungry, pro-militarism corporations (and their subservient politicians and presidents) that cunningly waved the flag and always had their serfs wear the patriotic flag pins on their suit coat lapels.

Now we know that these corporate entities never really cared about the well-being of their “cannon fodder” warriors who were doing the dirty work for them. The flag that the war-profiteering corporations and their CEOs pledge allegiance to is NOT the Stars and Stripes, but it is a flag that has their corporate logo on it.

Millions of dead and dying American veterans from every war since 1898 enlisted out of a sense of patriotic duty; but most of them soon found themselves 1) disillusioned by the atrocities they had been ordered to commit; 2) sickened from the exposures to military toxins (including the obligatory, massive over-vaccination program for every enlistee); 3) malnourished from the, toxic,  highly processed pseudo-food in their rations; 4) neurologically and psychiatrically sickened from ubiquitous overuse of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs or the cocktails of psych drugs given to them by military psychiatrists, medics and the VA; and 5) tormented by the post-combat demons, the nightmares and the suicidality – while at the same time earning less than the minimum wage.

And part of the process that led some of the above victims of a dysfunctional militarized system to think that killing and dying for their dysfunctional nation was glorious may have begun with the thrill of military air shows.

America’s soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines have been, in reality, working not for the US Constitution to which they pledged allegiance, but rather for a whole host of nefarious special interest groups that quickly stopped supporting them when the body bags and broken brains came home.

Hopefully, acknowledging these unwelcome realities will someday set us free from the war-glorifying war-mongers on Wall Street and War Street.

One of the purposes of this column is to point out some of the serious, often-unrecognized downsides of military air shows in order to warn others about the connection between America’s unaffordable (but highly profitably for the elites), imperialistic, endless war agenda and the on-rushing energy, environmental and population crises that have been censored out of our consciousness by a feel-good media that chooses vagueness or silence when courageous clarity is what is needed.

So, this weekend, tens of thousands of patriotic Duluthians will be watching in wide-eyed wonder as the highly skilled jet pilots do their breath-taking stunts. But, at the same time, there are many Duluthians who will refuse to spend their time and money attending and supporting these shows. They are capable of understanding the many negatives of America’s energy-wasting air shows that are being sponsored by corporate entities that have closed their eyes to the above realities.

Sadly, the Thunderbirds, their sponsors and their fans are unconsciously hastening America’s moral, energy, climate and financial collapse by ignoring the wastefulness of burning up precious non-renewable fossil fuel resources while simultaneously permanently poisoning the planet and risking the health of all of us – and our progeny.

Dr Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN, USA. He writes a weekly column for the Duluth Reader, the area’s alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns deal with the dangers of American fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, malnutrition, Big Pharma’s psychiatric drugging and over-vaccination regimens, and other movements that threaten the environment, health, democracy, civility and longevity of the populace. Many of his columns are archived at; or at


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