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SJAFB pilot selected for the Thunderbirds

By Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera

The United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, selected Capt. Lauren Schlichting, 333rd Fighter Squadron evaluating pilot and executive officer, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, to join their team. Schlichting is set to fly Thunderbird 3, becoming the teams right wing pilot.

Capt. Lauren Schlichting, 333rd Fighter Squadron evaluating pilot and executive officer, performs and instrument check on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, August 4, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera)

From a young age Schlichting knew she wanted to become a fighter pilot.

“Some astronauts came to my school in second grade,” said Schlichting. “The astronaut piece didn’t really resonate with me but them being fighter pilots did. Minnesota has little military presence and I am not from a military family. When I came home, at eight-years-old, and told my mom I was going to join the Air Force and become a fighter pilot, it was shocking for her. It just kind of stuck.”

Schlichting followed her lifelong dream. She went through the Reserve Officer Training Corps where she earned a pilot slot. She was then assigned to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle.

Sclichting says her military career has prepared her for Thunderbirds team. With 1,300 F-15E Strike Eagle hours under her belt she is ready to show and learn new skills on the demonstration team.

The mission and outreach is what stood out to her about being on the Thunderbird team.

Capt. Lauren Schlichting, left, 333rd Fighter Squadron evaluating pilot and executive officer, and Capt. Andrew Lombardo, 333rd FS weapons system officer, pose for a photo at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, August 4, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera)

“I know my life would be a lot different if someone hadn’t come to my school and placed that seed,” said Schlichting. “Hopefully I can do that with someone else one day!”

The Thunderbirds perform all over the world displaying the pride, precision and professionalism the U.S. Air Force represents. Through school visits, air shows and flyovers, they aim to excite and inspire. In addition to showcasing the elite skills all pilots must possess, the Thunderbirds demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Schlichting is set to attend training and get ready for the upcoming season.

“I will go through the F-16 Fighting Falcon course to get an instrument qualification and learn how to fly the F-16,” said Schlichting. “Once at Nellis AFB, pretty much all winter is training season to get ready for the 2022 season.”

Schlichting offers advice to individuals interested in becoming a fighter jet pilot and to her peers interested in joining the Thunderbirds team.

“If you want to become a fighter pilot work hard, keep a positive attitude and go for it,” said, Schlichting. “It’s a 100 percent no if you don’t try. For peers interested in the Thunderbirds, even if you are a little skeptical, because it is a vulnerable process to put yourself through, it is definitely worth it. Job or no job, the application process was a unique and very cool experience.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly Barrera)

During the application process Schlichting flew in the backseat of an aircraft during her flying interview. She also had the opportunity to attend an air show and see what the Thunderbird team does behind the scenes and went to Nellis AFB to see how the team prepares.

“I am looking forward to flying the F-16, the outreach, meeting people from all facets of the U.S. and the comradery of the team,” added Schlichting. “The comradery in a fighter squadron is close but it felt like it was even closer for the Thunderbird team. They spend so much time on the road together and have so much trust in flying with each other because they fly so close to each other and low to the ground.”

Schlichting is not the only one excited that she was selected to join the Thunderbirds team.

“The Seymour Johnson team is thrilled for Capt. Schlichting,” said Col. Kurt Helphinstine, 4th Fighter Wing commander. “We are going to miss her as she has been a valuable part of our team, sharing her knowledge and experience as an F-15E instructor here. I am excited for her new role as an Air Force ambassador and I am excited to see her return to Team Seymour as a Thunderbird pilot during our next air show in 2023.”

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