Photo: U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Taylor, the 494th Fighter Squadron director of operations, flies a simulated F-15 fighter jet using a Reduced Oxygen Breathing Device/Hypoxia Familiarization Trainer at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Nov. 18, 2011. The trainer provides aircrew members the ability to experience a simulated altitude change without the added pressure changes and risks when using an altitude chamber. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)
There’s more to the mission of the Air Force Thunderbirds than performance, precision and indescribable skill. Recruitment and retention are at the core of their operation, and with that comes participation in the community as well.
While the Thunderbirds are the center of attention at air shows, they like to share the spotlight with citizens of the communities that support them through their “Hometown Heroes” program. Ogden-area resident Megan Funk was one such local hero to be honored by the Thunderbirds team during Air Force Week Salt Lake City June 4.
Megan recently completed her first year as a second grade teacher. It’s early in her career as an educator, but she’s been around long enough to provide infinite life lessons to her seven- and eight-year-old students, namely “teaching young kids about giving to others.” It was this theme that brought Megan into the back seat of Thunderbird #7.
“You run the ride,” Thunderbird #7, “Taz,” told Megan before he briefed her on what to expect during her F-16 flight. Their signature diamond formation, the delta, rolls, turns and pulling Gs… she would experience it all.
“You’ll do what everyone will see this weekend,” he said.
Like his fellow pilots, Taz boasts an impressive flying resume, illustrated by a few notable numbers. His flying career started with the F-15 in Japan and Florida, and his F-16 career followed in Nevada where he flew with the National Guard. Taz’ flight times are no small feat: he has spent over 1500 hours in F-15 and 700 hours in the F-16.
An amusing connection was made between pilot and copilot during their pre-flight briefing, Megan mentioned that her and her husband, Curtis, had their first viewing of Top Gun the night before her flight. Taz smiled and reminisced that Top Gun was the movie he took his wife to on their first date in 1986. Megan was born just one year prior.
The Thunderbirds’ aircraft are the most mission-capable, mechanically-sound F-16s in the fleet. The maintainers and support crew are the cream of the crop: they are perfectionists in all they do, from their support to their sharp uniforms. They are primo representatives of who we are as a United States Air Force, supporting a vast mission through excellence in all they do.
Thanks to 2nd Lt. Shannon Laubenthal for writing this post and Alex Lloyd for providing the photos.