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ThunderBird Pilots Commander Nathan Malafa and his left wing Zachary Taylor

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence
The Truth Network Radio
February 8, 2024 6:04 am

ThunderBird Pilots Commander Nathan Malafa and his left wing Zachary Taylor

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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February 8, 2024 6:04 am

Amy sits down with two of the ThunderBirds pilots that will be doing the fly over before the big game.


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One of my favorite conversations of the entire week, and that's saying a lot, right? A pair of Thunderbird pilots, US Air Force Thunderbird pilots, Commander Nathan Malafa and left wing Zachary Taylor, sat down with me on Radio Row. And of course, they're in uniform. They're a bunch of Thunderbirds wandering around.

I didn't realize we got the best of the best, number one and two. I also didn't realize, as I asked them, the Thunderbirds are based locally in the area. So I asked them, what's it like to have a Super Bowl come to Nevada? It's so cool. It's so cool. Especially this being the first one here.

Beautiful, big stadium. We're in the beginning. We're actually in our training season right now, so it's timed perfectly. We're able to get our new team formed and flying in that tight formation and being on time, you know, on course and right at the right altitude, putting that smoke on and putting on a great show. Any chance you were practicing this morning?

Because I feel like I heard you over my hotel room. That was us. That was us, yeah. We were raiding the strip.

Yeah, it was good. Very cool. So the Thunderbirds are world renowned, of course, and I've been reading a little bit about your training regimen, but also about the process just to get into this group. So I'm assuming it's a huge honor. Can you explain, Zachary, he's going to talk now, a little bit about how you even get to be selected for the Thunderbirds.

Yes, it's a huge honor to be a part of this team. It's a team of 135 people who get six jets in the air for an air show. For the pilots flying the demo, we've been in the Air Force anywhere from seven to ten years flying fighters, and that's when you're finally qualified enough to even apply. Wow. That's a lot of time in the air.

It is. We're looking for, you know, very experienced fighter pilots who are instructors within their fighter jets, they're flying, who are capable and qualified to come and do this demonstration because we're going to spend around 300 days a year together on the road. So like a football team, very much like a football team, you have to like the person you're flying next to, we're gonna get really close in the air.

So very selective. Wow. Is it an honor then to be asked to do a flyover for an event like this? Absolutely, yeah. It's always an honor to be asked to come show what we're all about, right, what the Air Force is about, what this team is about. So we're absolutely ecstatic.

Well, tell me, what are you all about? Yes, so our mission is to recruit, retain, and inspire. And I think one of the most important pieces of that is the inspiration, right? I think that's something America needs right now. And we're a great demonstration of that because we show what you can do with teamwork from people coming from all over the United States for a common purpose, a common goal, and setting aside their differences, and working really, really hard to put something elite together.

I think that's something that Americans can resonate with, because that's embedded in the American spirit. So we're excited to do that. And when you have an opportunity to be out, and so not in your cockpits, but be out here and kind of shake hands and be ambassadors, that's got to be a lot of fun to explain to people what you do. Yeah, it's a blast.

It's a blast. We love talking about, I mean, as fighter pilots, we love talking about our planes almost as much as ourselves, I think. Commonly joked, but it's fantastic to meet everyone involved here because there's so many people that don't understand, right? They don't understand about the military, right?

They may have grown up in a spot where there isn't military bases or family, and there's a very small percentage of Americans that actually serve, right, or are able to serve. So we love talking about that because I think there's so many unique opportunities that people don't really understand, and it's fun to share that. Nathan and Zachary, are you guys actually going to be in the planes on Sunday? That's amazing. That's so cool.

Must be a lot of anticipation and buildup. Well, he mentioned the whys of serving. Zachary, why do you serve?

There's a lot of reasons for me. So I grew up in an underprivileged situation, so a pretty bad situation growing up. And the Air Force provided me an outlet to go to college, to get a degree, to have a career and make something bigger out of myself than really my situation was going to lend me. So for me now, in this opportunity, in this capacity, not only do I get to fly in the most extreme and challenging environments, I also get to tell people about the opportunities that the Air Force has for them, their friends, their family.

So really, it's just a way to give back at this point in this capacity. At what point did you decide that flying was for you? I was pretty young.

I like to say my grandfather brainwashed me. He took me in every summer. We were building model airplanes, flying airplanes.

But I never really knew how far I could take you, so it's been an awesome journey. And what about the training? What kind of work goes into being ready for, whether it's a show or a flyover, or just to be ready to serve?

Absolutely. It's intense. So from the flying side, at least on the Thunderbirds, we're flying twice a day, every day, six days a week in our training cycle right now. We've been to two separate locations. We've been to a place in New Mexico, Spaceport, New Mexico, and Edwards Air Force Base, which is in California.

We just got back from there a few days ago. And that's, yeah, it's flying twice a day, every day. And it's about 12 to 14 hours every day because you prep, you actually execute the flight, and then you debrief for probably like two hours, typically. And you go through every single maneuver, every single thing that everyone else is doing so that you can continue to improve and get better.

So we're constantly looking at ways to get better. And that's just on the flying side. All the other folks, we're a minority on the team. It takes an entire 135 people team to get the jets ready. The jets, you know, they break, right? And they're out there fixing it. The public affairs team taking pictures and posting content, it's a whole team effort.

So it's a lot of work, and the training's intense for everybody. Okay, I have a couple of goofy questions. All right, so one is when you see movies like Top Gun Maverick, are those cool for you guys, or you think, oh, that's not even realistic?

Depends on the movie. I loved Top Gun Maverick. So much fun. Yeah, they did a great job. It was great because they, it was evident that they took the time to listen to their subject matter experts, the military subject matter experts, because there was a lot in it that was pretty darn accurate as far as the weapons type, the delivery type. There were, you know, there's some Hollywood stuff going on there for sure, but it was a lot of fun to fly. And I think the most beautiful thing in that movie for me was like the cinematography of the aerial shots.

Absolutely amazing. So I actually, on my last Radio Row, which was in Miami, I interviewed a couple of the actors that were serving as pilots, and they were talking about the training and actually said that the training for, in case of a crash landing, and to be prepared for what, if something goes wrong, was far more intense and scarier than anything they did in the air. How much do you all prepare for a potential disaster? So we train from the beginning of pilot training all the way to where we are now, always for emergencies. And it's not if it's when something's going to break, you're going to be faced with a challenging situation with, you know, the jet malfunctioning or, you know, just you name it, it can happen and it's going to happen. So we are very well prepared in all those regimes, whether it's jets or weather or, you know, just crazy things that can happen, how to take care of yourself, take care of the jet, and then ultimately knowing that maintenance is going to take care of, you know, everything that you bring back to them is going to be fixed before you go up again. Is the adrenaline rush still real when you get up there?

Oh, yes. Yeah, it's still very real because there's a lot of pressure, right? And one of our mottos is no pressure, no diamonds.

You can either crumble under pressure or you can take that as an opportunity to refine and get excellent at something, and that's what we do on this team. These planes are obviously millions and millions of dollars. They cost a lot. Yes. I don't think I'd be able to think about that if I was, because they're not your planes, obviously.

They belong to the military, well to the Air Force, the United States. So is that, I mean, does that add some pressure? There's, the pressure is always present, but because of the training, you get very good at compartmentalizing and focusing at the task at hand, and there's a lot of things that challenge that, whether that's weather or other traffic or maybe your radios don't work or there's some sort of malfunction, and we take all that on the, you know, we take all that on the team and show that as an example of what happens really everywhere in the Air Force and all the, you know, great Americans that are doing and overcoming the challenges to get the mission done. What will it be like on Sunday? Now, it's a dome stadium, but we will see you all on TV. So can you maybe walk us through what that will be like from when you take off to, as you go over the stadium? Yeah, so we actually build in extra time for, you know, these flyovers.

So we're going to step to the jets a little early, start them early. We'll taxi to the end of the runway and we'll just be sitting, waiting, ready to go for our time to take off. We'll take off and we'll have about 20 to 30 minutes before the actual flyover. And then it's a lot of radio checks, hoping that Reba's on time, because once we start pointing these six F-16s towards the stadium, there's really no slowing us down.

Are you getting a countdown? Is someone telling you what's happening in the stadium? We'll have a team up on top of the stadium who's in contact with the production team and, you know, there's a lot of communication to make sure that we hit that last note perfectly.

Oh my gosh, that's awesome. So before I let you go, best part of flying, what is it? I enjoy the teamwork aspect of it, right?

Because you can accomplish very little with a single airplane. When you start bringing in and having wingmen like Zach here and a whole team around it, you can accomplish amazing things. So I really like to see what a well-oiled machine and teamwork can bring and the things that they can accomplish. It reminds me a lot of like team sports. So there's challenges individually and collectively. So individual maneuvers are more difficult for some individuals than others. Other maneuvers are difficult for the entire team.

You can hear in somebody's voice when something didn't go well. And it's like, how do you react and overcome and like get to the next maneuver? So it is so challenging on the individual, just like team sports. But you have to like overcome that individual challenge to impact the team positively.

So it's a blast. I was reading a little bit about the formations. So people know because people will hear the show and we're a national network.

Where will you all be in the formation on Sunday? So I can tell people. So Nathan, you're wearing a one in a two. Does that tell you something? That does. Absolutely. Yeah. So number one, I'm in the lead aircraft. So I'm the one out front.

I'm the boss. That's right. That's right. So everyone else is flying off of me. Zach here's welded onto my left wing. He's my left wing. That's right. So I'm sitting on the wrong side now. So it's really awkward.

Yeah. He doesn't know. He doesn't know how to look left. He only knows how to look right.

My neck doesn't go this way. I'm wearing the kinks out there. It's so cool to connect with you guys. We'll be looking for you one and two. But also, much more importantly, thank you for your service to our country. It means a lot to me personally. We appreciate that.

We appreciate you stopping by. You bet. Have a great day. Yeah.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-08 08:23:25 / 2024-02-08 08:29:22 / 6

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