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University of Central Missouri
Administration 302
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
Fax: 660-543-4943


Members of the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds Speak at UCM

Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (June 12, 2015) – Members of The Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force demonstation squadron and precision flight team, greeted students, staff and the public during a visit to Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport Friday morning.

Maj. Jason Curtis, USAF Thunderbirds
Maj. Jason Curtis, lead solo pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron, provided an overview of the mission of the precision flight team during a visit to UCM's Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport Friday morning.

The UCM Department Aviation hosted the event, providing four members of The Thunderbirds with an opportunity to provide information about the team, also known as the Ambassadors in Blue. The visit by the group preceded the performance by The Thunderbirds at the Whiteman Air Force Base "Wings Over Whiteman" open house and air show June 13-14.

Maj. Jason Curtis, lead solo pilot, introduced Maj. Chris Scheibler, flight surgeon for The Thunderbirds, and SSgt. Jay Dayao and SSgt. Sean McGibbon, members of the flight support crew. Following a video presentation about The Thunderbirds, Curtis spoke to those gathered and answered questions.

Curtis emphasized that The Thunderbirds is not just made up of the six pilots who fly the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jets during the groups performances.

"We have a team of 130 people who make up our team," Curtis said. "When we travel, it takes a great deal of organization and planning to prepare for each of our shows."

Curtis added that the flight crews are responsible for all aspects of the success of the peformance and safety of the pilots. Medical support travels with the team, not only to assure they are healthy so they can fly, but also to maintain their health after a performance due to the physical demands of the specific flight maneuvers performed.

During a question and answer session, Curtis said that the team needs clear skies up to 1,500 feet in order to fly, with flying in the rain not an option.

"At the speeds were fly, trying to fly in a driving rain will take the paint right off the planes," he said.

The team practices one hour daily as preparation for the more than 60 performances they schedule each year. Preparation includes the perfection of the carefully choreographed maneuvers.

Thunderbirds and Monetti
Curtis, right, joined by SSgt. Sean McGibbon, left, and Maj. Chris Scheibler, present Tony Monetti, assistant dean of aviation and director of the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport, with a signed poster during the visit by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

"Each show is chroreographed to have a maneuver in front of the audience at all times," he said, noting that at some points multiple manuevers are being performed simultaneously.

Curtis said that all of the Thunderbird pilots are trained combat pilots, and they can be called into combat duty at any with 72 hours notice or less.

"All of the aircraft we fly are mission-capable aircraft that can be deployed with only minor modification," he added. "One thing would would do is to remove the paint, and we would replace the oil canister we use to create the tailsmoke with operable weaponry."

Curtis added that the transition back to combait air duty would be an adjustment, which is the reason that Thunderbird pilot are selected from applicants for two years of service with the team.

"All of us a trained combat-ready airmen who have been given the privilege of taking a couple of years to serve in this capacity," he said. "I know because of my experiences with The Thunderbirds, I have grown as a person, a pilot and an airman."

Curtis and the members of The Thunderbirds presented Tony Monetti, assistant dean of aviation and director of the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport, with a signed poster.