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Mako to Thunderbird: 93rd FS pilot selected

June 4, 2008 (by SSgt. Erik Hofmeyer) - Maj. Sean Gustafson, 93rd Fighter Squadron pilot, made history after being the first Air Force Reserve pilot chosen to fly on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Team' since its inception in 1953.

Maj. Sean Gustafson, 93rd FS pilot, was selected to fly with the Thunderbirds

On May 29, the Palmetto Bay resident and Delta Airlines pilot was informed he'll fly the No. 4 slot aircraft in the six-person demonstration team during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Only the finest fighter pilots and upstanding individuals are selected to represent the Air Force's pride and precision by flying the signature red, white and blue F-16 fighter jets at airshows around the world. The Thunderbirds - who are currently touring in their 55th year as the Air Force's premier jet demonstration team - represent the more than 500,000 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen serving at home and abroad.

"Flying with the Thunderbirds has been a dream of mine since I first saw them when I was a kid and when I was on active duty," Major Gustafson said.

In November, Major Gustafson will begin practicing for perfection during the four-month training period where he'll undergo a grueling training regimen in preparation for the March-November season.

"The training will be really intense. I'll be flying twice each day to make sure the maneuvers are perfect because safety is paramount. It's a lot of work, but my family is completely supportive. My wife is an incredible woman," he said.

The mission of the Thunderbirds isn't only about aerial acrobatics such as pitching, rolling, diving and swirling through the skies.

"The Thunderbirds have an awesome mission," Major Gustafson said. "They make an impact every day by recruiting and inspiring our young men and women to stay in the Air Force and continue to serve. It's phenomenal seeing everybody's faces when they're watching the Thunderbirds," he said.

Representing America's Air Force, which is the best part of the whole thing. It's not about the pilots; it's about the more than 500,000 Air Force members stationed worldwide. I'm proud to take on this mission, and I'm going to carry this out to the best of my ability," he said.

"We are thrilled for Sean and his family. His selection to fly on the team is an honor for him, the 482nd Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve Command," said Col. William B. Binger, 482nd Fighter Wing commander.

Major Gustafson's selection also says a lot for the future of the Reserve and Air National Guard.

"We're a completely integrated Air Force now, and it shows the active-duty Air Force recognizes that it's 'one team one fight,' Major Gustafson said.

"The Air Force Reserve has really stepped up its operations in the Global War on Terrorism, and reservists are serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. My selection is a great way to inform people about how the Reserve is serving side-by-side with active duty and performing at an equal level," he said.

But in the meantime, Major Gustafson plans to stay close to home with his wife and three children in the months leading up to training season, and he'll be taking military leave from his civilian career with Delta Airlines.

"My employer is a great support of military life. We reservists couldn't do what we do without the support of our civilian employers. The employer and the employee relationship is huge, and a very large part of how we can continue to serve in the Reserve," he said.

Courtesy of 482nd Fighter Wing