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2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds crew chiefs walk in formation after launching their aircraft during the Barksdale Air Force Base 2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show April 21. The Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds, based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., is the Air Force's premier aerial demonstration team, performing at air shows and special events worldwide. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Sean Martin) (Released)
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Thunderbird crew chiefs show own brand of pride, skill

Posted 4/23/2012   Updated 4/23/2012 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Sean Martin
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs


4/23/2012 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed at the 2012 Barksdale Air Force Base Defenders of Liberty Air Show April 21 and 22, in front of thousands of guests. The officers who fly the F-16 Fighting Falcons are highly skilled pilots and typically receive the audience's adoration during the performance.

But few people realize how much work happens behind the scenes for the Thunderbirds to have a great performance. Each F-16 Fighting Falcon is assigned two crew chiefs who maintain and care for the aircraft. These crew chiefs are highly skilled and go through rigorous training in order to be a part of the team.

Every new team member must go through a 21-day orientation and training program. In those first three weeks, new members learn about the life as a Thunderbird, the team's long, detailed history, and its heritage, mission and squadron-specific policies.

"The program consists of learning the entire history of the team from its start in 1953 to present day," said Staff Sgt. Brad Butler, Thunderbird 2 dedicated crew chief. "For any F-16 crew chief, there is really no extra training."

For those who have not had F-16 training, in-depth training is held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. such as airframe specifics, added Butler.

"Thunderbird crew chiefs spend countless hours training and practicing synchronized launch and recovery procedures," said Maj. Jason Moore, Thunderbirds 11 maintenance officer. "These skills are demonstrated during the ground performance at an air show.

A lot of trust is placed on the crew chiefs of each aircraft. As the pilot walks out to the aircraft, the crew chiefs salute and shake hands with him signifying that aircraft is prepared and ready for flight."

A crew chief must maintain a very close relationship with his or her pilot. From having the planes mission ready, to making sure all controls and gears are running smoothly, a pilot and a crew chief must always see eye-to-eye.

"What's unique about our relationship is that in a normal squadron, the pilots are in charge of performing the final pre-flight check, whereas with the Thunderbirds, the crew chiefs are," said Maj. J.R. Williams, Thunderbird 5 lead solo. "We are placing our lives in the hands of our crew chiefs, which is very hard to do if you do not develop that trusting relationship."

Each pilot sees the same crew chief every day which adds to the close relationship they have, Williams added.

Each enlisted member of the Thunderbirds must have three years time in service in order to be eligible for team consideration. If chosen, they will serve three to four additional years with the Thunderbirds.

"It's extremely gratifying to be a part of such an elite team," said Butler. "I think the biggest benefit is seeing the faces of young children light up with excitement when we take to the skies."

The Thunderbirds target audience is the young, impressionable teens who are about to make a big decision in their lives coming out of high school, added Butler.

"We want to give them all aspects of this opportunity," said Butler. "In case this is something they might be considering for themselves and their career."

Although the crew chiefs are not in the sky, they play one of the biggest roles in ensuring the show is a success.

"To see a six-ship demonstration in the sky is an amazing feeling knowing you had a hand in making it happen," said Butler. "It's a very prideful feeling we have."



tabComments
4/30/2012 7:24:06 PM ET
The cream of the crop Professionalismdedication at it's best They're not just a show of acrobatics they are ready for war at a minutes notice FLY FIGHT and WIN
jim rothCMS ret, sumtersc
 
4/30/2012 5:33:20 PM ET
Air Force and Thunderbirds what else can you say. Their the best
SMITTY, Illinois
 
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