back to news June 27, 2019

Former TBDBITL member, communication alum selected to prestigious Thunderbirds squadron

Thunderbird 6 performs the Sneak Pass maneuver during a practice show at Melbourne, Florida, Oct. 3, 2014. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.
Thunderbird No. 6 performs the sneak pass maneuver during a practice show. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.

Capt. Kyle Oliver used to march in formation in the ‘Shoe with TBDBITL.

Now, he’ll fly in formation in the skies with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, an aerial performance flight squadron that consists of some of the top pilots in the Air Force.

“I was pretty speechless,” Oliver recalled of his reaction after receiving the call he’d been selected. “I wasn’t quite convinced my boss didn’t just have the wrong phone number. Never did I think I’d have the opportunity to do so many of the things I’ve done, so that was just one more ‘holy cow’ moment that this was actually happening.”

Oliver (BA, communication, 2010) always knew he belonged in the sky. Born at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton into a family that moved around the country to accommodate his dad’s career in the Air Force, the longing was instilled in him from the beginning. As a child, he’d watch the Thunderbirds zoom through the air above him, and it became his dream to join them one day.

Though Oliver’s family was on the move through much of his early childhood, they maintained roots in the Buckeye State. Oliver, who went to high school in Beavercreek, Ohio, came to Ohio State to play the trumpet in the marching band — where he was a squad leader his last two years — and join the Air Force ROTC program.

After Oliver graduated in December of 2010, he started pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma. He then moved on to Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, where he learned how to pilot the F-22 fighter jet. He’s flown the F-22 operationally since 2013, which includes assignments in Anchorage, Alaska, and Hampton, Virginia, as well as two combat deployments in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East.

Through the length of his career, however, Oliver never let go of his Thunderbirds aspiration.

“It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, and I told my leadership all along that that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

Oliver went through a lengthy application and interview process. His flying record was scrutinized, he was interviewed by Air Force officers and current Thunderbirds pilots, and he spent five days with the Thunderbirds team during an event. At the end of it all, Oliver was selected.

Thunderbirds No. 5 and 6 perform the calypso maneuver. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.
Thunderbirds No. 5 and 6 perform the calypso maneuver. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.

The six Thunderbirds fly in the delta formation. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.
The six Thunderbirds fly in the delta formation. Photo credit U.S. Air Force.

Oliver is designated Thunderbird No. 6 and will be the team’s opposing solo pilot. The position requires him to perform some of the more technical, high-performance aerial maneuvers that showcase the maximum capabilities of the F-16, the jet flown by the Thunderbirds. He’ll also perform high-speed passes and formations with the team’s lead solo pilot.

Before Oliver begins flying in shows, he will spend eight weeks learning to pilot the F-16 and will train with the team after its 2019 schedule ends. His first airshow as a Thunderbird will be March 14, 2020, in Del Rio, Texas, and his first Ohio airshow is June 20-21, 2020, in Youngstown.

Oliver has plenty of experience performing complex and spectacular maneuvers in front of big crowds. As a member of TBDBITL, he learned how a high-quality performance relies on concentration, commitment and teamwork.

“I think it set me up for success from day one,” he said. “Whether a show is on the football field or in the air, it takes dedication, an incredible amount of focus and an unparalleled amount of trust in the people around you.”