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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Maintainer passes tests, joins Thunderbird team

May 5, 2010 (by Capt. Jessica Martin) - An aircraft maintainer from Air Force Reserve Command's 926th Group has earned a coveted spot with the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron.

SSgt. Andrue Donaldson inspects the wheel and tire assembly on a USAF Thunderbird F-16. [USAF photo by Capt. Jessica Martin]

Staff Sgt. Andrue Donaldson, an F-16 crew chief, was patched during a ceremony March 12 in the Thunderbird hangar.

"The amount of professionalism on this team is amazing," Sergeant Donaldson said. "I feel a huge sense of accomplishment becoming a part of this organization and I look forward to contributing my part."

Sergeant Donaldson was in Colorado when he decided to apply for the team.

The three-month application process was highly competitive. After a review of his enlisted performance reports, resume, prior service accomplishments, letters of recommendation, fitness scores and several other factors, Sergeant Donaldson was notified in December 2009 that he had made team.

He moved to Nellis AFB in February 2010 and began the 21-day orientation soon after.

"Las Vegas seems nice, but I haven't had much of a chance to explore yet," he said.

The indoctrination program keeps candidates busy with memorization work, waxing the patch on the hangar floor and brass twice a day, giving museum tours, and meeting three evaluation boards, each with 75 questions about the team's history.

The process ends with the patch ceremony. In March, Sergeant Donaldson stood in front of the team of more than 120 Airmen where the squadron commander inspected him and once again assessed his dexterity and practical knowledge of the team's history. Sergeant Donaldson passed the test and joined the ranks of the Air Force's premier demonstration team.

"As an integrated partner to the Thunderbirds here at Nellis, we are extremely proud that one of our maintainers has the opportunity to serve on the team," said Chief Master Sgt. David Macerelli, 926th GP maintenance superintendent. "Sergeant Donaldson is a seasoned crew chief and brings sustained expertise to both the Reserve and Regular Air Force."

Although he's been a maintainer for almost 10 years, Sergeant Donaldson recognizes the challenge of being a Thunderbird member and is excited to take it on.

"I feel it's the best thing an F-16 crew chief can do," he said. "It's the top of our career field."

The team regularly trains from December to March. The show season runs from March through November with 73 air show demonstrations across the United States and Canada this year.

During a typical show week, the team will leave Nellis AFB on a Thursday, set up at the air show base on Friday, fly Saturday and Sunday, and return home on Monday. Now that Sergeant Donaldson is patched, he will join the road schedule in May.

Sergeant Donaldson is the Thunderbirds' second member to come from the 926th Group.

Maj. Sean Gustafson made history when he became the first Air Force Reserve pilot selected for the team. He joined the squadron in November 2009 and currently holds the No. 4 slot.

Sergeant Donaldson will serve on a three-year tour on the team as a full-time reservist.

"It's a really good experience," he said. "I enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie of the Regular Air Force, Reserve and Guard working together."

Through the Air Force's Total Force Integration initiative, the 926th Group employs part-time and full-time members within Regular Air Force units. These reservists work alongside their active-duty counterparts to provide continuity and experience in accomplishing the mission.

In addition to the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, members of the 926th Group are integrated throughout the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis AFB and the 432nd Wing at Creech AFB, Nev. (Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

Courtesy of 926th Group Public Affairs

Additional images:

SSgt Andrue Donaldson inspects the formation light on a USAF Thunderbird F-16. [USAF photo by Capt. Jessica Martin]