America’s Ambassadors in Blue, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, headline the Florida International Air Show at the Punta Gorda Airport, Nov. 1 - 3, 2019. We caught up with Capt. Michael Brewer, Right Wing Pilot (Thunderbird No. 3) to learn a bit about him and what it’s like racing across the sky in an F-16.
The Thunderbirds is the Air Force’s aerobatic demonstration squadron where six jets race in the sky at speeds up to 700 mph. Capt. Brewer and the team with six other jets and a C-17, landed at the Punta Gorda Airport the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 31. The team departed Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., earlier in the day and refueled three times before landing at PGD.
Capt. Brewer hails from LaGrange, Ill., and is finishing his first of two years with the Thunderbirds. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 2010 and his path to the military is a bit unconventional, as compared to others who have served. After graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, in 2005, he flew as a commercial pilot between 2006 and 2010. He entered the military by joining the Guard Reserve which led to active duty.
Pilots perform twists, turns, and other jaw-dropping aerobatics hundreds of feet off the ground which could lead to some nerve-wracking moments. Trust, training, and preparedness, keep the team safe.
"The basis of this team is trust,” Capt. Brewer said, "We're [wing pilots] only a couple hundred feet off the ground and I'm staring at the Boss's wing tip the entire time. I don't see the ground underneath me. I just see that airplane because we're flying anywhere from 18 inches to 3 feet of it.
“My only goal is to stay in the exact position that I started in,” and added, “I 100 percent trust Boss with my life to maneuver the aircraft."
When asked if training prepared him for his first year as a Thunderbird, Capt. Brewer replied, “The training is well-rounded…It cannot prepare you for everything but it can prepare you to be safe in every situation.”
As for being prepared before getting into the F-16, Capt. Brewer said being mentally and physically prepared are important.
“Make sure you're in a good head space. Make sure you're able to focus on the task at hand,” he said, and added, “Physically, make sure you're well rested, well hydrated, and well nourished.”
Capt. Brewer is one member in a team of 130 who make the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds one of America’s most beloved demonstration squadrons. When his time with the Thunderbirds is finished, he hopes to continue in the aviation field.
“My aspirations are to stay involved in aviation for the max extent as possible. I love being in the military. I love aviation through in through, it's been part of my life since I was a little kid," Capt. Brewer said, then added, "Being able to bring the joy of aviation to others is something that brings me a lot of personal joy."
The Florida International Air Show features a collection of edge-on-your-seat aerobatic performers, military aircraft, static displays, and plenty of food. The show benefits dozens of Southwest Florida charities and over the years, has raised more than $2.9 million for those organizations.
The Florida International Air Show is Friday – Sunday, Nov. 1 – 3, 2019. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will perform Nov. 2 & Nov. 3.
Friday, Nov. 1, gates open at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 & 3, gates open at 9 a.m.