Attention to detail: Thunderbird visits Grissom ahead of airshow

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Courtney Dotson-Essett
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs
While the Grissom Air and Space Expo is still eight months away, one lone Thunderbird made a pit-stop at the base-all in the name of preparation.

Maj. Jason Markzon, pilot of Thunderbird 8 and the advance pilot and narrator, along with Tech Sgt. Bryson Schuster, crew chief and maintenance advance team member, visited to tour the base, facilities, and meet planning team members.

“Every time we go to a site that haven’t been to in over five years, or there’s been major changes, we need to do a site visit so we can check out the area and become familiar with the surroundings,” Markzon said.

Even though the show is scheduled for September 7-8 2019, Markzon said prior planning helps eliminate potential problems.

“You want to get it done early so that if there’s any early questions, we can go ahead and tackle that right up front,” he said.

And no detail is too small. There are numerous details to research during each visit.

“We look at everything from how we’re getting to base, to where we’re sleeping, to what kind of flying hazards are around for the pilots,” he said.

It’s a lot of work for Markzon and Schuster, but they contend the planning phase is half the fun.

“This is my favorite because I get to ride in the backseat, advancing the show sites and kind of doing more of the background to getting the air show set up versus just performing,” said Schuster.

“I feel like I have more skin in the game of making the show happen,” he added.

It’s been 16 years since Grissom’s last air show and with the passage of time comes change. Markzon said both veteran and novice air show attendees will see a well-thought out and exciting show.

“A lot has changed in 16 years,” Markzon said. “Obviously the team has changed a bunch.
We continuously update our support manual, our maneuvers and safety protocol.”

“People can expect we’ll bring pride, precision and professionalism to our display,” he added. “Our diamond formation pilots are going to bring the gracefulness of the F-16 and they’re going to see our soloists execute some of the more dynamic performances of the F-16.”

Markzon stressed the importance of a well-organized and exciting show because it’s not just the Thunderbirds who are being represented during performances.

“We are proudly representing 660,000 Airmen across the Air Force and a lot of men and women are deployed and can’t come and display the pride and professionalism that they take in their jobs every day,” he said.

“What we try to do when we come to these air show is display that pride and professionalism,” he added.

The Thunderbirds Squadron is comprised of four civilians, 12 officers and more than 100 enlisted personnel. Each member plays a significant role in the flying and solo routines performed in a show.

With nearly 30 Air Force specialty codes represented within the squadron, the enlisted personnel will also get in on the fun. Maintainers execute a ground show performance that precedes the aerial demonstration.

“There’s so much precision movement and they work so hard at practicing during the training season and it’s really exciting to watch while the jets are getting ready for takeoff,” Markzon said.

Another exciting component for Markzon is the civic engagement opportunities that come along with representing the Thunderbirds.

“My absolute favorite part is being able to get out to the community and just talk about my story and then hopefully inspire that next generation to become better versions of themselves,” he said.

In addition to their duties as the Air Force’s premier demonstration team, the squadron and aircraft remain a part of combat forces. The Thunderbirds personnel and aircraft have the ability to be integrated into a fighter unit at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where they are based.

They can be made combat-ready in 72 hours.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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