The USAF Thunderbirds found themselves in unusual circumstances in 2020; dealing with cancelled shows, added flyovers , special events and concerns over their own medical health. By the time the season was over, the team had flown just a handful of appearances from their original schedule.
Recently, the Thunderbirds announced that all of the officers on the team would remain for an extra year due to the extraordinary situation. Team members typically serve two-year rotations before moving on to other units. About half the team changes over in any given year to ensure a degree of continuity.
To maintain the team’s continuity and operational readiness to perform world-class demonstrations, the following officers have been extended:
Lt. Col. John Caldwell, 2019-2020 Commander and Leader, will continue to fly the No. 1 jet and command the 130-person squadron.
Maj. Michael Brewer, 2019-2020 Right Wing Pilot, will transition to the Slot Pilot and fly the No. 4 jet for the 2021 demonstration season.
Maj. Michelle Curran, 2019-2020 Solo Pilot, will continue to fly the No. 5 jet as the team’s Lead Solo Pilot.
Maj. Jason Markzon, 2019-2020 Advance Pilot and Narrator, will continue to fly the No. 8 jet and narrate the team’s aerial demonstration during performances.
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Noel Colls, 2019-2020 Flight Surgeon, will continue to serve as Thunderbird 9 and provide medical care for the squadron’s team members and their families.
Maj. Zane Taylor, 2020 Slot Pilot, will transition to Right Wing Pilot and fly the No. 3 jet for the 2021 demonstration season. The position swap between Brewer and Taylor was made to ensure continuity of experience and preserve the team’s future aerial demonstration capabilities and readiness.
The officers currently serving as Thunderbirds 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12 will continue to serve their normal tour of duty for the 2021 demonstration season.
Unfortunately, one of the team’s pilots will not be able to continue his Thunderbird career despite the extension:
Maj. Trevor Aldridge, 2020 Left Wing Pilot, will leave the team in 2021 due to health reasons.
“Trevor has served the Thunderbirds honorably; and we are very appreciative of his hard work and dedication during the 2020 season,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader. “Trevor and his family will be sorely missed and supported as he transitions to his next assignment.”
On Instagram, Thunderbird #2, callsign “Dozen”, posted several pictures talking about his departure. He says he has experienced “a few temporary health concerns, while in the Thunderbird jet.” While still cleared to fly fighters in the USAF, Maj. Aldridge says that “given the proximity and precision performance flying of the Thunderbirds, there is simply no room for even the smallest of unknowns.” Dozen plans to continue his military flying career away from the team.
An official announcement on who will fly the Left Wing for the 2021 season will be made by USAF Thunderbirds Public Affairs once the pilot has been selected.
The Thunderbirds will kickoff their 2021 season with the Daytona 500 flyover, Feb 14th. The flyover will be broadcast on FOX Sports.