Ever Wonder What It Takes To Be A U.S. Air Force Thunderbird?

Andy Giersher
August 17, 2018 - 10:22 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- The 60th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show kicks off Saturday and continues Sunday along the lakefront, from Fullerton to Oak Street. North Avenue Beach is the center of the show taking place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

The show is one of the largest and longest-running free events of its kind and welcomes millions back every year to watch high-flying acts. This year’s headliners include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights, and the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs.

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But did you ever wonder what it takes to become a Thunderbird? WBBM Newsradio's Andy Giersher found out.

"In order to be a Thunderbird you need to be an experienced fighter pilot. So you need at least 750 hours in figher aircraft. Once you get to that point, then you are able to apply for the team," said Capt. Will Graeff.

The application process includes letters of recommendation and the person's career.

"Turning that into the team, then they review it and call people out for interviews," he said.

There are two rounds of interviews, semi finals and then a finalist round. And then if you find yourself lucky enough to be selected, you can officially call yourself a Thunderbird!

Capt. Will Graeff is the Left Wing Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 2 jet. He earned his commission in 2008 as a graduate of the University of Florida's Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. Before joining the team, Graeff was a T-38C instructor for Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals. Prior to his time in the T-38, Graeff was an F-15E pilot and Chief of Advanced Programs for the 492d Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, England. He has logged more than 1,400 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with more than 200 hours of combat experience. Graeff is in his first season with the team and hails from Seminole, Florida.

Remember to take a radio to the lakefront this weekend. WBBM Newsradio will have live play-by-play coverage of both days; plus a live video stream at on our website and the WBBM Newsradio Facebook page.