Newest Thunderbird Continues Legacy
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jason Hughes, a veteran aircraft maintainer, has achieved his dream, becoming the newest member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Hughes called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” and said he’s excited to represent the Air Force on the grandest stage.
“I’m humbled beyond words and the excitement is overwhelming in a great way,” Hughes said. “The Thunderbirds are the face of the Air Force and the chance to help tell their story and all of our individual stories to inspire and attract future generations of airmen is the most exciting thing.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hughes added. “It’s hard to put into words and realize that this is actually happening. I’m excited to represent the Air Force on the grandest stage. It feels like a dream.”
Before this dream became a reality, Hughes was focused on other career opportunities on the horizon. Among these opportunities was the chance to work with the A-10 Thunderbolt II and rekindle his childhood passion.
Enticed by Moody’s A-10 mission, Hughes landed in southern Georgia to be the 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit’s lead production superintendent.
Thunderbirds Are Go
After many years of contributing to the Flying Tigers’ heritage and achieving several milestones, Hughes says the stars finally aligned to pursue another challenge. As the chief enlisted manager at the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, he saw an opening for the same position for the Thunderbirds and felt compelled to apply.
“I applied and had to go through a phone interview and then was asked to come to an air show and interact with the [Thunderbirds] team for another interview,” Hughes said. “I was nervous and excited the whole time, but no matter the results, I viewed it as an opportunity to interact with the best of the best in the Air Force. They were very professional, yet awesome and fun to be around. I wanted to be able to experience that camaraderie.”
According to Hughes, this esprit de corps was reminiscent of the Flying Tigers. The people, leadership, impact of the mission and support from the local community reminded him of his favorite assignment as a Moody airman, which he credits with preparing him for his transition.
“The mission tempo at Moody forces you to be at your absolute best,” Hughes said. “You can’t get done with one thing without preparing for two more. We’re a very busy, well-oiled machine that maintains a high standard. We’ve generated the best aircraft and personnel and have a track record of success to get the job done. I want to bring Moody’s culture of excellence and extend it to the Thunderbirds.”
As the incoming chief enlisted manager for the Thunderbirds, Hughes will provide advice to the commander about aircraft maintenance and be the enlisted force manager for two years.
“I’ll be guiding airmen in career fields I’ve never had close interactions with, but it will be a fun challenge that I’m looking forward to,” he said. “It will help broaden my experiences because I’ll not only have to get more acquainted with various jobs but also help the airmen progress in their career to be successful not only as Thunderbirds but for their future endeavors as well.”
Hughes will take on the role of managing 120 enlisted personnel spanning 25 different career fields. He’ll also reunite with a former Moody A-10 pilot, Air Force Capt. Erik Gonsalves, Thunderbird No. 8 advance pilot and narrator.
According to the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s commander, Air Force Lt. Col. Bobby Buckner, this reunion highlights what Moody is achieving.
“It’s amazing what the base is accomplishing and it shows that we’re executing [23rd wing commander Air Force Col. Thomas E.] Kunkel’s priority of developing courageous leaders,” Buckner said. “We’re building world-class leaders and it reflects in the results of what our people are doing. Both Gonsalves and Hughes deployed with [the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron] and were tested in combat operations, deployment operations and exhibited excellence at home station on a tough ramp. It just shows that they’re deserving.”
While Hughes doesn’t know what the future may hold, he says he’s honored to have been entrenched in the fight for Moody’s A-10 mission and that he’ll fully cherish the opportunity of donning the prestigious Thunderbird flight suit.