ENJJPT pilot selected to fly with Thunderbirds

Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program's Capt. Will "Boar" Graeff, 88th Flying Training Squadron executive officer, is selected to be Thunderbird 2 for the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron for the 2018-2019 showseasons. As a Thunderbird, Graeff will be traveling approximately 200 days out of the year for two years, performing and executing maneuvers exhibiting the capabilities of the Air Force’s high-performance aircraft and the degree of skill required to operate them.
He will demonstrate to spectators the abilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon with maneuvers like the Diamond, a legendary formation used by the team where Thunderbirds 1-4 fly their aircraft as close as 18 inches apart at speeds of roughly 500 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Brittany Curry)

Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program's Capt. Will "Boar" Graeff, 88th Flying Training Squadron executive officer, is selected to be Thunderbird 2 for the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron for the 2018-2019 show seasons. As a Thunderbird, Graeff will be traveling approximately 200 days out of the year for two years, performing and executing maneuvers exhibiting the capabilities of the Air Force’s high-performance aircraft and the degree of skill required to operate them. He will demonstrate to spectators the abilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon with maneuvers like the Diamond, a legendary formation used by the team where Thunderbirds 1-4 fly their aircraft as close as 18 inches apart at speeds of roughly 500 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Brittany Curry)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

 

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds select Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training’s Capt Will “Boar” Graeff, to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the Thunderbird 2 demonstration pilot slot.

Graeff, currently serving as 88th Flying Training Squadron executive officer, will join the ranks of the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron as an Ambassador in Blue for the 2018-2019 show season.

He is “humbled and honored” to be selected and is looking forward to making the most of his time with the team.

With his nine years of active duty experience and capabilities in the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle, Graeff put in an application to become a pilot for the demonstration team.

“Growing up, I wasn’t one of those people who went to an airshow as a kid and fell in love with the Thunderbirds and made that my life-long dream,” Graeff said. “I always appreciated and respected what they did but I never really understood what they did outside of the airshow. But then I found out what they truly do, which is to recruit, retain and inspire. They do a lot of work with hospitals, schools, veterans and a lot of other community outreach.”

That community outreach—the ability to make a positive impact—is what ultimately drove Graeff to apply to the team.

“Once I found out what they truly do, that is when I fell in love with the Thunderbirds,” Graeff said.

As a Thunderbird, Graeff will be traveling approximately 200 days out of the year for two years, performing and executing maneuvers exhibiting the capabilities of the Air Force’s high-performance aircraft and the degree of skill required to operate them.

He will demonstrate to spectators the abilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon with maneuvers like the Diamond, a legendary formation used by the team where Thunderbirds 1-4 fly their aircraft as close as 18 inches apart at speeds of roughly 500 miles per hour.

As family man, husband and father to a son with another on the way, Graeff is looking forward to giving them something to be proud of and to make memories that they can cherish down the road.

Given the inherent risks of all pilots, specifically the Thunderbirds, this opportunity does not come without obstacles.

“My family is nervous because of the nature of the job but we knew these obstacles were part of it and we believe we have the strength, will and determination to overcome those,” Graeff said. “My wife and I both know the mission of the Thunderbirds, something that is so meaningful and impactful, is not one I could turn my back on.”

Leaving ENJJPT, Graeff says what he has learned from the assignment will help him exponentially as a Thunderbird.

“This assignment has grown me more than anything else as far as professionally and in my maturity level,” Graeff said. “I have had great mentors—Lt Col Cok, Lt Col Blagg, Col Miller, Lt Col Stitt— who were all instrumental in perusing this goal and in grooming me and taking care of me.”

Most of all, the aspect that Graeff says will pay dividends is the NATO aspect of the ENJJPT program.

“Knowing and having this background with international experience and being able to share that with the world for those who may not understand that aspect of the military I believe will help me in this next assignment,” Graeff said. “I think being able to take the experiences I have learned here, both professionally and personally, with other nations will be beneficial in telling the world how we cooperate together to get the job done.”

Graeff and his family will report to Nellis AFB, Nevada, no later than October 1, 2017, where he will begin training in the F-16C Fighting Falcon, completing all qualifications and adapting to the duties as a Thunderbird pilot.

For more information on the Thunderbirds and the mission Graeff is about to embark on, go to www.afthunderbirds.com.  

Duty History

After graduating from the ROTC program at the University of Florida, Graeff attended Undergraduate Pilot Training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Vance AFB, Okla., where he was selected to attend training for the F-15E Strike Eagle at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.

Following training, Graeff was stationed at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, where he also deployed.

Graeff is now stationed with the ENJJPT program at Sheppard where he has served as a flight commander for the 88th FTS and check pilot for the 80th Operations Group.

He is now back at the 88th FTS as the executive officer where he awaits departure to Nellis AFB, Nevada.