Aggie Thunderbirds Pilot Shares Account Of U.S. Flyovers
As a navigation officer with the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds, Maj. Trevor Aldridge knew when planning the route for a recent mission in Austin that he wanted the formation flight to pass over the Texas Capitol. There was just one problem for the Aggie pilot – that meant flying over the University of Texas campus.
It was a tough dilemma, he said, but ultimately his loyalty to the state is stronger than any friendly rivalry he has toward a specific school. It also helped that the Texas A&M University graduate had a piece of Aggieland in the cockpit with him at the time.
“If I had to fly over TU, I would at least have a 12th Man towel with me,” Aldridge said.
As the No. 2 pilot — call sign “Dozen,” also a nod to the 12th Man — Aldridge flies on the left wing of the precision formation. He also serves as the navigation officer, working to develop the routes, coordinating fuel planning, timing and more.
Watching airplanes fly over his hometown of Wichita Falls as a youth, Aldridge had his eyes set on being a pilot. An Air Force scholarship in high school brought him to Texas A&M, where spent two years in the Corps of Cadets Squadron 8 followed by two years in the newly-formed Hellcat 21 outfit. After earning a civil engineering degree in 2008 and being commissioned as a graduate of the Air Force ROTC program, he was selected for the pilot training program, where he had his first flight opportunities.
Aldridge went on to serve as an F-15 pilot at Royal Air Force Lakenheath station in the United Kingdom, and joined the Thunderbirds six months ago with more than 1,500 flights hours behind him.
The aerial demonstration squadron’s duties changed not long after Aldridge became a part of the team, as the novel coronavirus swept across the country. Along with the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds coordinated a series of flyover exhibitions dubbed “Operation America Strong,” a morale-booster for both health care professionals and essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and Americans who have been sheltering-in-place since March.
Aldridge and the rest of the team started to grasp the scale of the virus in March about 20 minutes before a briefing ahead of their flight to Del Rio, Texas, where they would have the first show of the year. The group was informed that the event had been canceled. Soon after, a show in California was also called off. Since then, the rest of the Thunderbirds’ schedule has been put on pause through July.
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🤠💪🏼 TEXAS STRONG! It was an honor to fly this mission over my home state of Texas. This pandemic has required a lot of sacrifices, but Texans have grit. I’m proud of our state and I know that we will come out of this pandemic strong. The flight today has some uniquely fun moments, we saw multiple people in the beds of their pickups jumping up and down waiving American and Texan flags! It’s a perfect example of why I love Texas so much. Thank you to everyone in Texas for the sacrifices you have made the past few months. A particular thank you to the front line workers who have been putting their lives on the line to fight this virus. Remember that as Texans and as Americans we are all in this together. Love y’all.
It put the team in an odd position, he said. They took two weeks off to shelter at home, watching as the pandemic spread. That’s when the team heard about the difficult work being carried out by health care workers across the country.
“We would see how they were working tirelessly, how they were working without gear, risking their lives to try to save other peoples’ lives, and we wanted to do something for them,” Aldridge said.
Leadership approved a flyover of 18 hospitals and medical facilities in the Las Vegas area, where the Thunderbirds are based. Aldridge said the reaction was overwhelming. In the following weeks they flew over the Air Force Academy graduation and the city of Denver.
Seeing people step outside their homes to watch the planes fly overhead, a sort of shared activity after weeks of social distancing, the team “knew that it was something special,” he said. Working with the Blue Angels, the teams coordinated flyovers coast to coast.
The Thunderbirds’ F-16 Fighting Falcons roared over cities including San Antonio and Austin, New York City, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Diego.
It’s been an unexpected season, Aldridge said, but one that has been more impactful for the public than the Thunderbirds would have ever had flying its usual air shows.
“Even though we didn’t get the chance to fly over A&M, myself and the Thunderbirds are still thinking about y’all, and want to make sure that y’all know that even though we’re separate as we’re going through this, that we’re still in this together,” Aldridge said. “That’s one thing that’s so great about A&M – the A&M family and how everyone takes care of each other.”
With everyone making sacrifices and processing events in their own way, Aldridge said he encourages students to reach out to one another and offer support to their Aggie family.
“We don’t know how everybody’s dealing with this, and this is a challenging time for us,” he said. “We really need to bond that Aggie spirit together even though we’re distant, and make sure that we let each other know that we’re in this together.”
Media contact: Caitlin Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org.