June 8, 2012 (by SrA C.J. Hatch) - The Thunderbirds are the U.S. Air Force's premier air demonstration team; from the pilots to the maintainers, they represent the best the Air Force has to offer.
One Luke Airman was recently selected to join this elite team of professionals, Capt. Jason Curtis, 308th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot.
"I felt super stoked," Curtis said. "It will be an amazing opportunity to represent something that is much larger than me -- the United States Air Force."
Being selected for the team is not only personal for Curtis, but he also looks at his selection as an opportunity to help teach people about the Air Force and its mission.
"I think this is a platform I can use to truly change people's lives for the better and educate them about how awesome America's Airmen are in defending the United States," he said.
Curtis will be going into the spot of Thunderbird No. 6 opposing solo, one of the high visibility positions on the team.
"My expectations going in are to stay humble and be ready to learn," he said. "Fortunately, I will be learning from two of the Air Force's best pilots: Maj. J.R. Williams, current No. 5 lead solo, and Capt. Blaine Jones, current No. 6 opposing solo. They will take me through an intense upgrade program. I've heard that the opposing solo position presents some of the most aggressive and challenging flying the Air Force has to offer, so I will have my work cut out for me in the air."
Although Curtis is the one going to fill a spot on the team, he said he couldn't have done it by himself.
"Here at Luke, I am very lucky to be surrounded by the Emerald Knights of the 308th Fighter Squadron," he said. "The Knights are comprised of heroic pilots who amazing people who challenge me tactically every day. I've learned a lot about officership and being a fighter pilot from my Emerald Knight brethren. My success is a testament to the efforts of the Emerald Knights and the environment my squadron commander, Lt. Col. Chris Colcord, has created as we focused on our mission here at Luke."
The 308th has been very beneficial for Curtis and his selection. From his fellow pilots to the maintainers keeping the aircraft flying, he couldn't have done it without them, he said.
"There is something special going on in the 308th right now, and an air of exemplary leadership throughout all ranks from the aircraft maintenance unit to the fighter squadron," he said. "I really believe we have an all-star lineup in the Knights right now, from the commander and director of operations all the way to the squadron aviation resource managers."
From his beginnings in the Air Force Academy, Curtis looked up to the Thunderbirds, but never aspired to be one. His focus was on preparing for combat deployments. It wasn't until returning from a deployment he became interested in joining the Thunderbirds.
"I entered the Air Force at a time when our nation was at war," Curtis said. "My focus as an officer has always been preparing to be successful in combat ever since commissioning as a second lieutenant from the academy. I was very fortunate to serve in combat as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan in 2010, and again on very short notice over Libya in 2011.
"It was not until returning home from war that I developed the desire to apply to the Thunderbirds. This call came from observing our Airmen perform the mission under extremely difficult situations in combat and being very successful at it. It is their story that I need to tell in a public forum, not my own. The Thunderbirds are a perfect vessel to do that."
Curtis has a lot to be thankful for and many people behind him inspiring him to do his best in all.
"I cannot take credit for becoming a Thunderbird all by myself, as it took support from the entire Luke team to earn a spot on the Thunderbirds," he said. "This is a chance that I have to say thanks to all of those who have made a great deal of effort to bring me to where I am today; to my grandfather who fought and flew in the Battle of Britain in WWII and my father who was killed in his Air Force aircraft shortly before I was born; to the crew chiefs and maintainers who have kept me safe in the F-16; and to my fellow Airmen and leadership who have shown me what it means to demonstrate valor in combat. From my brothers in arms whom I have served with all over the world, to the Airmen right here at Luke, I am forever thankful."
The Thunderbirds are built to inspire, Curtis said, and in that spirit he wants to also inspire those who have a dream. Be it the Thunderbirds or anything else an Airmen can aspire to, Curtis says with the right attitude it can be done.
"My advice to everyone is to absolutely lose yourself in mastering your current job, whatever it is," he said. "When you dedicate yourself to that while helping and encouraging those around you, the performance records, interviews, résumés and letters of recommendation will take care of themselves."