Thunderbird Memorial is Go

U.S. Air Force Memorial Dedicated in Arlington

A memorial designed by the late James Ingo Freed for the U.S. Air Force will be officially dedicated October 14 and 15 on a promontory next to Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial evokes the Thunderbirds’ bomb-burst flying formation, featuring three stainless-steel spires that rise from a granite base and arc to varying heights.

The slender yet sinewy form of the memorial exudes an almost-nothing elegance, belying the complexity of the engineering work sheathed in the spires’ three-quarter-inch-thick steel skin: Ove Arup & Partners specified a reinforced concrete core, a solid steel tip, and lead ball dampers to minimize swaying in each spire. The 2,000 pound-balls are encased in stainless steel shells that roll freely within octagonal boxes lined with synthetic damper pads. The total above-ground weight of the spires is 2,300 tons. Construction took nine months and cost more than $30 million.

Freed’s other works inside the Beltway include the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center as well as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Aeronautical-themed architecture bookends his oeuvre: One of his earliest projects was a prototype for air traffic control towers that was implemented repeatedly nationwide and overseas.

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