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Air Force Thunderbirds Preparing for an ‘Amazing’ International Airshow Season

Thunderbird left wing pilot Capt. Will "Boar" Graeff signals his readiness prior to practice this week. (USAF)

High performance flight demonstrations by the Air Force Thunderbirds will return to the skies in a few weeks as the elite pilots and service personnel prepare for the squadron’s historic international air show season.

Winter training is underway with the Air Force’s flight demonstration team practicing and studying formations aboard their F-16 jets, and in the classroom in preparation for the new season. The team of six pilots are scheduled to perform their traditional first public flight over the Daytona 500 race in February.

Capt. Michael Brewer stands before an F-15E Strike Eagle last July at Seymour Johnson AFB. Capt. Brewer is currently training as a Thunderbird pilot. (Image: USAF TSgt. D. Carbajal)

Capt. Michael Brewer has taken the reigns as the Thunderbirds new right wing pilot. Capt. Brewer, who flies under the call sign “Thorny”, is excited to begin training and to perform with his new squadron.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Brewer said in a recent Air Force release. “Being a Thunderbird allows you to inspire tens of thousands of people at an air show. And we get to do that several times a year.”

Brewer was based at Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. where he served as an F-15 Strike Eagle pilot for nearly two years prior to joining the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform at Seymour Johnson in April.



The Thunderbirds are a force of over 120 enlisted airmen and 11 officers, men and women working together to showcase the role of the United States Air Force. The team recently welcomed four new pilots and a medical doctor for the new season.

The squadron will highlight the season with their return to Dayton, Ohio. The Thunderbirds were forced to cancel their June 2017 appearance when one of their jets crashed on landing at Dayton International Airport during inclement weather. The two crew members survived, however the $29 million F-16D was totaled.

America’s Ambassadors in Blue are led by new team commander Lt. Col. John “Brick” Caldwell. Thunderbirds 2 through 8 are pilots Capt. Will “Boar” Graeff (left wing), Capt. Michael “Thorny” Brewer (right wing), Major Whit “Skate” Collins (slot), Major Blaine “Spider” Jones (solo); Capt. Michelle “Mace” Curran (opposing solo), Major Eric “Miami” Gorney (operations officer), and Major Jason “Flack” Markzon (advance pilot and narrator).

F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot “Mace” Curran is in training as only the second female solo in the Thunderbirds history. She will serve as the opposing solo. (Image: USAF)

Curran becomes only the fourth female pilot in Thunderbirds history and only their second female solo pilot in 66 years. Mace arrived at Nellis, AFB in November having spent one year as an F-16 instructor pilot at the 301st Fighter Wing in Fort Worth.

“There are so many strong women who have paved the way for me to be able to do what I do today,” Capt. Curran said in an Air Force interview. “From the WASPs in WWII, to the first female fighter pilot in the Air Force, Jeannie Leavitt. They have broken barriers and done great things.”


Updated 2019 Thunderbirds Schedule:

February 17: Daytona 500, Daytona Beach, FL Flyover (2:24 p.m.)

March 3: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Nevada (Flyover)

March 23/24: Davis-Monthan AFB, Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona

March 30/31: Travis AFB, California, Thunder Over the Bay

April 6/7: Waco, Texas – Heart of Texas Air Show

April 13/14: Open Date

April 27/28: Seymour Johnson AFB, NC Wings over Wayne Open House

May 4/5: Keesler, AFB, Mississippi Thunder Over the Sound

May 11/12: JB Andrews, Maryland JB Andrews Air Show

May 18: Kirtland AFB, New Mexico Air and Space Fiesta

May 25/26: Wantagh, New York Jones Beach Air Show

May 30: USAF Academy, Colorado

June 1/2: Offutt AFB, Nebraska Defenders of Freedom Air Show

June 8/9: Fort Wayne (IN) Air Show

June 15/16: Mankato, Minnesota Air Spectacular

June 22/23: Dayton (OH) Air Show

June 29/30: North Kingstown, Rhode Island

July 13/14: Rionegro (Medellin), Colombia, SA

July 20-21: Fargo (ND) Air Show

July 24: Cheyenne (WY) Frontier Days

July 27/28: Milwaukee (WI) Air and Water Show

August 10/11: Abbotsford (BC) International Air Show

August 17/18: Sioux Falls (SD) Air Show

August 21: Atlantic City (NJ) Air Show

August 24/25: Rochester (NY) International Air Show

August 31-Sept. 2: Cleveland (OH) National Air Show

September 7/8: Grissom Air Reserve Base (IN) Air Show

September 14/15: Reno, Nevada National Championship Air Races

September 21/22: Naval Air Station Oceana (VA) Air Show

September 28/29: Robins AFB (GA) Air Show

October 5/6: San Juan, Puerto Rico International Air Show

October 12/13: Hampton, Georgia Atlanta Air Show

October 19/20: Wings Over Houston (TX) Air Show

October 26/27: Sheppard AFB (TX) Air Show

November 2/3: Punta Gorda, Florida International Air Show

November 15-17: Nellis AFB, Nevada Aviation Nation

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)

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Charles Atkeison

Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.

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