The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Herbert Carlisle, has officially selected the officers who will be joining the United States Air Force Thunderbirds for the 2017 demonstration season.
Lt. Col. Jason Heard, 492nd Fighter Squadron, director of operations, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, will become Thunderbird No. 1, the squadron’s commander/leader. As the two-fold duty title implies, his responsibilities will include commanding a force of more than 120 enlisted personnel and 11 commissioned officers assigned to the Thunderbirds, along with leading all demonstration flights. Heard will replace Lt. Col. Christopher Hammond.
Maj. Nathaniel Hofmann, 55th Fighter Squadron, chief of training and F-16 pilot, stationed at Shaw AFB, S.C., will become Thunderbird No. 3, the team’s right wing pilot. He will fly as close as 3 feet from the No. 1 jet during flight formations, demonstrating the teamwork and precision of America’s Air Force. Hofmann will replace Maj. Alexander Goldfein.
Capt. Whit Collins, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, flight commander, chief of training and F-16 pilot, currently stationed at Eglin AFB, FL., will become Thunderbird No. 6, the team’s opposing solo pilot. The solo pilots perform maneuvers that showcase the maximum capabilities of the F-16 aircraft. Maj. Alex Turner, the current opposing solo pilot, will transition to the lead solo position in 2017, replacing Capt. Nicholas Eberling.
Capt. Erik Gonsalves, 75th Fighter Squadron, flight commander and A-10 pilot, currently stationed at Moody AFB, Ga., will become Thunderbird No. 8, the team’s advance pilot and narrator. His duties will include advancing to show sites ahead of the team, coordinating logistical details with the local show organizers, and narrating to the crowd during performances. Gonsalves will replace Maj. Scott Petz.
Capt. (Dr.) William Goncharow, 59th Medical Wing, a flight surgeon currently stationed at Lackland AFB, Texas, will become Thunderbird No. 9, the team’s flight surgeon. He will provide medical care for more than 130 squadron members and keep the team in optimal health. Goncharow will replace Maj. (Dr.) Christopher Scheibler.
“The talent pool for our finalists was very impressive making the selection of our new Team members very difficult,” Lt. Col. Hammond said. “The five individuals who were selected are incredible professionals and will represent the Air Force well. There is no doubt the Thunderbirds will be in good hands for the 2017 show season.”
The 12 officer positions on the team are two-year tours of duty. By design, the position openings are staggered, allowing the squadron to maintain continuity of experience and leadership. In 2018, Thunderbird Nos. 2, 4, 7, 10, 11, and 12 will be replaced.