The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, has officially selected the officers who will be joining the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds for the 2019 demonstration season.
Lt. Col. John Caldwell, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become Thunderbird No. 1, the squadron’s commander/leader. As the two-fold duty title implies, his responsibilities will include commanding a force of more than 120 enlisted personnel and 11 commissioned officers assigned to the Thunderbirds, along with leading all demonstration flights. Caldwell will replace Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh.
Capt. Michael Brewer, 334th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., has been selected as Thunderbird No. 3, the team’s right wing pilot. He will fly as close as 3 feet from the No. 1 jet during flight formations, demonstrating the teamwork and precision of America’s Air Force. Brewer will replace Maj. Nate Hofmann.
Maj. Whit Collins, the current lead solo pilot, will transition to the slot pilot position as Thunderbird No. 4 in 2019. Like Brewer, Collins will also fly in close formation with the other demonstration pilots, just aft of the No. 1 aircraft and between the two wingmen. Collins will replace Maj. Nick Krajicek.
Capt. Michelle Curran, 355th Fighter Squadron, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, has been chosen as Thunderbird No. 6, the team’s opposing solo pilot. The solo pilots perform maneuvers showcasing the maximum capabilities of the F-16 aircraft. Maj. Matt Kimmel, the current opposing solo pilot, will transition to the lead solo position in 2019.
Maj. Jason Markzon, 35th Maintenance Operations Flight commander and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, will become Thunderbird No. 8, the team’s advance pilot and narrator. His duties will include advancing to show sites ahead of the team, coordinating logistical details with the local show organizers and narrating to the crowd during performances. Markzon will replace Maj. Branden Felker.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Noel Colls, a flight surgeon and family practice resident assigned to the 60th Medical Operations Squadron, Travis AFB, Calif., will become Thunderbird No. 9, the team’s flight surgeon. He will provide medical care for more than 130 squadron members and keep the team in optimal health. Colls will replace Maj. (Dr.) William Goncharow.
“This year’s exceptional officer applicant pool reflects the incredible degree of talent, motivation and diversity that exists throughout our Air Force. It was a tough selection process, but ultimately these officers rose to the top.” Walsh said. “The Thunderbirds are proud to welcome these leaders aboard as they assume responsibility for showcasing the pride, precision and professionalism of more than 660,000 total force Airmen serving around the world.”
The 12 officer positions on the team are two-year tours of duty. By design, the position openings are staggered, allowing the squadron to maintain continuity of experience and leadership. In 2020, Thunderbird Nos. 2, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12 will be replaced.