The Thunderbirds are in town

Published 6:01 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron roared into Lake Charles on Monday in preparation for this weekend’s Chennault International Air Show.

Among those waiting to greet them was St. Louis Catholic senior Emma Bright who dreams of being a Thunderbird pilot.

She will enter the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in a little over a month.

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“They are who I want to be, so it is great to be able to meet them and see how they feel about the whole thing,” Bright said.

The Thurderbirds are the main attraction for the air show. The gates open at 5 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Bright, who is fifth in her graduating class with a 4.5 GPA and 33 ACT score, got the flying bug at 15 and earned her pilot’s license at 17.

She plans to major in aeronautical engineering at the Academy.

“When I was 15, my dad would randomly ask me if I wanted to do a fly lesson. And I said sure, and I did it,” Bright said. “I ended up loving it.

“My instructor went to the Air Force Academy for about a year and did not like it, but he introduced it to me and got the gears turning. So I looked into it and went up there for Summer Seminar my junior year into senior year and that made me want to go there. It is about the feeling. It is very freeing when you are up there. It is a big responsibility. Especially when there are other people with you, but it is a good feeling.”

One of the Thunderbird pilots she met is Major Eric Tise, who flies the No. 6 jet and is the opposing solo pilot.

Tise has 1,500 flight hours in the F-16 and 500 combat hours.

“This flying is definitely the most difficult and humbling flying that I have ever done,” Tise said. “You go from your last assignment where you are an instructor and evaluator, then now you are doing something totally new.

“In the Diamond (formation), they fly 18 inches apart. For the solos, I am flying next to a jet that is upside down 100 feet off the ground. It is definitely challenging but really rewarding. We like to see ourselves as an inspiration. So when people come to see us fly, (we want to) inspire them.”