Airman reminisces Thunderbirds days

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jose L. Leon
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With an airshow scheduled for September 2012, two years will have passed since the Thunderbirds performed at McConnell, and 12 years since Master Sgt. Miguel Tafoya worked with the Thunderbirds.

Tafoya, 22nd Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment program manager, has been at McConnell for 18 months and in the Air Force for 23 years.

The Air Force Thunderbirds are an aerial demonstration squadron based out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., that showcase the capability of Air Force aircraft.

Tafoya was selected to join the Thunderbirds in 1996 and began training with the team in 1997 as a staff sergeant.

"You don't wear their uniform, you have to earn the patch," said Tafoya about the first 21 days of training for the team. "What you do is like a boot camp."

After completing training and earning his patch, Tafoya toured the world with the air demonstration squadron nine months out of the year for three years.

The Thunderbirds show season is from March to November. The team spends approximately 200 days on the road and performs more than 70 shows annually worldwide.

I learned how much the public appreciates the Air Force, said Tafoya. "When you show them that you are there for them, they respond well."

As the assistant NCO in charge of the Thunderbirds' life support section for two years and NCO in charge for his last year on the team, Tafoya maintained life-saving gear, keeping it serviceable and regularly inspected.

The gear is not only used by pilots, but also by the public guests given incentive rides.

During the 2010 Open House and Air Show, a "Hometown Hero" was selected to fly on an incentive flight.

"I was very nervous, said Bill Pater, a Derby, Kan., Fire Department deputy captain. "The people that I worked with at McConnell assured me and gave me a lot of great advice."

Pater was selected to fly as the "Hometown Hero" with the Thunderbirds when they performed at the 2010 open house. "I loved the flight, it was an incredible experience," said Pater.

As NCOIC of life support, a lot of times I was the first person people saw before they got in the jets, said Tafoya. Calming nerves is a part of the job.

The Thunderbirds will be demonstrating at the "Wings over McConnell" Open House and Air Show Sept. 29 and 30, 2012. Also performing will be the U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team.
For more information, visit the official air show webpage, the 22nd ARW Facebook page, or McConnell's offical website.