JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the air demonstration squadron based out of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, has an extremely selective process for its members.
Two U.S. Air Force Airmen from Joint Base Langley-Eustis were selected through the exclusive process to fill slot number 6 as opposing solo pilot and no. 10, the team’s executive officer.
Slot No. 6
“The most impactful time I saw them fly was between my junior and senior years of high school at Dayton in 2005,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kyle “Gumbo” Oliver, 27th Fighter Squadron pilot. “That was the day I decided that flying fast jets was not a phase I was going to outgrow, it was something that I was going to dedicate myself to and a passion I was going to pursue.”
Oliver was selected in June 2019 to be the new Thunderbird 6, the team’s opposing solo pilot.
“I think I’ve worked toward the dream of becoming a Thunderbird honestly my entire life,” Oliver said. “Since joining the Air Force, I’ve worked to become the most tactically credible fighter pilot that I could be, and then worked toward the dream of becoming a Thunderbird in the last couple of years.”
On the Tuesday before Memorial Day, he received the call that he had been selected to join the Thunderbird team. Honored and humbled, Oliver said his mom showed incredible support.
“She was over the moon and maybe even more excited than I was when I gave her the call after I had hung up with the commander,” he said.
Oliver will now get to represent the F-22 Raptor fighter jet community as a Thunderbird.
“I am incredibly humbled to get to represent not just the F-22 community but the fighter community as a whole,” he said. “And in the greater scheme of things the 685,000 total force Airmen all across the world.”
Oliver will now be flying the F-16, which has one engine, versus the F-22, which has two.
“I love the phenomenal capabilities of the F-22, the unique aspects that it brings to the fight, so of course I’m going to miss flying the Raptor,” he said. “The F-16 however is a very capable combat fighter, even though it only has one engine, it has a really, really big one so I think it’s going to be more than enough to get the job done.”
Being a Thunderbird will give Oliver a chance to perform the stunt flying that he enjoys.
“I absolutely love flying upside down,” Oliver said. “It is one of the very unique things about fighter aviation that makes this job cool.”
According to Oliver, the sneak pass is one of the coolest maneuvers in the show and the one that he is the most excited about.
“You get to fly just shy of the speed of sound within a couple hundred feet of the ground and not get in trouble for it,” Oliver said. “It’s the ultimate Tom Cruise [moment].”
Oliver explained some of the other maneuvers that he is looking forward to including the line break loop and the calypso pass.
He is also looking forward to making the Armed Forces more accessible to the public and showing the importance of what of what the Air Force does on a daily basis, which is to fly, fight and win in air space and cyberspace.
Slot No. 10
Capt. Katherine “Hammer” Moorkamp, Air Combat Command senior leader management assistant chief, was selected in May 2019 to the Thunderbird 10 executive officer position.
Early in the year, the call went out to the 38 force support officers across the Air Force to see if they were interested in applying for the position. After an extensive selection process, four finalists were selected to go to the Waco Air Show, Texas, to do in-person interviews with the team. Moorkamp received the call to notify her of her selection a few short weeks later.
Being able to talk to people who are excited about joining the Air Force someday and what they can offer to the Air Force or to society is what Moorkamp said she is the most excited about.
During the interview portion of the application process, Moorkamp was able to visit a local high school.
“It’s exciting to see that in kids’ faces like, ‘oh man that’s really cool maybe this is something for me,’ so that’s what I’m most excited about--meeting people and helping them,” Moorkamp said.
Moorkamp gave credit to her family and friends for giving support along the way with her Air Force career and with the application process to the Thunderbirds team.
“My parents raised me to work hard and take pride in everything that I do,” Moorkamp said. “The work ethic that they instilled from a very early age mostly by their example, showed me that anything is possible if you work hard enough, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Moorkamp said she likes to say, ‘you don’t get anywhere worth going on your own.’
“A lot of people have helped me become the person that I am both in the Air Force and out of the Air Force,” Moorkamp said. “It’s all the same thing, you’re just trying to be a good human being, whether that’s in the uniform or not, but I couldn’t do it without the people around me, that’s for sure.”
According to Moorkamp, spending over 200 days a year during this two year position as TDY is going to be an exciting opportunity for her to travel and further her career in the United States Air Force.