EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Lt. Col. John Caldwell, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander, has been selected to lead the United States Air Force Thunderbirds as Thunderbird No. 1 for the 2019 demonstration season.
“This is such an incredible and unique opportunity,” Caldwell said. “The Thunderbirds execute a critical mission for the Air Force, and leading that team is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
As current commander of the 28th TES, Caldwell is responsible for the management of operational test and evaluation, tactics development, and software management for all fighters and bombers in the Combat Air Forces inventory. In his upcoming command position, 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.
“I have really loved my time with the 53rd Wing, it is very gratifying work,” Caldwell said. “We make a difference for the warfighter. You get to see the fruits of our labor very quickly, and you effect the entire force, not just a particular aircraft, or a particular base, or a particular student, but the entire Air Force. I’ve had the opportunity to execute management and leadership skills, and work on some very interesting projects. But, it’s been a career goal of mine to use these skills to lead a flying squadron. Being able to fulfill that goal with the Thunderbirds is incredible.”
Since 1953, the Thunderbirds have served as America's premier air demonstration squadron. They represent the pride, precision and professionalism of every Airmen, but especially the 20,000 who are currently deployed in defense our nation.
“I’ve deployed quite a bit," he said. "I’ve spent about 700 total hours flying in combat. But my family, my friends, never have any concept of what we actually do in combat – the skills it takes, the demands. And the only glimpse they really get is to go watch an airshow. I always appreciated the Thunderbirds because they gave my family members and friends an opportunity to see the level of skill and precision that you need in order to be successful in combat. Whenever they were cheering for the Thunderbirds, I really felt like they were cheering for me, for the guys downrange.”
Caldwell will leave command of the 28 TES later this month, and head to Nellis, AFB where he will prepare to lead the Thunderbirds in their upcoming season and continue displaying what the Air Force is capable of in combat.
“The sneak pass, the bomb bursts, the rejoins, the high G turn, all the cool aspects of the show, all the sights, the sounds, and the noises demonstrate the incredible raw power of these machines, and the skill of the folks that fly them," he said. "I love to help my family make the connection that if we’re capable of doing this, imagine what we’re capable of doing on the battlefield. What people really appreciate, and what they really cheer for, and what they’re really in awe of is the power and precision of that team and how it represents the folks who are downrange right now. That’s the power of the Air Force.”