173rd FW ‘Eagle Driver’ becomes the first ANG fighter pilot selected to be a Thunderbird demonstration pilot

First ANG Thunderbird pilot

The US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, known as the “Thunderbirds”, recently announced the latest addition to their team for the 2024-2025 season, and at the top of the list was Maj. Tyler Clark, a 173rd Fighter Wing instructor pilot and chief of scheduling.

As told by Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar, 173rd Fighter Wing, in the article 173rd FW Instructor Pilot selected as newest Thunderbird demo pilot, Clark is the first Air National Guard fighter pilot selected to be a Thunderbird demonstration pilot.

“Being a Guardsman is an opportunity to represent the Total Force and the ‘Land of No Slack’,” says Clark. “I am extremely thankful for the 173rd Fighter Wing and my leadership who enabled me to pursue this opportunity.”

Fulfilling the Thunderbird pilot mission

‘Land of No Slack’ is the nickname given to the 173rd FW, which Clark has been a member of since early 2022. Clark says his time flying at Kingsley Field will help him fulfill his mission as a future Thunderbird pilot.

US Air Force Major Lauren Schlichting, #4 Thunderbird for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Team, presents Major Tyler Clark, 173rd Fighter Wing F-15C Instructor Pilot, with a signed photo after his flight evaluation Jul. 6, 2023 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Clark was selected as one of the newest demonstration pilots for the US Air Force Demonstration Squadron in the 2024-2025 season.

“The ‘Land of No Slack’ creates top-notch fighter wingmen who earn the coveted ‘Eagle Driver’ patch,” says Clark. “With that comes a tremendous responsibility to maintain and constantly demonstrate a dedication to our mission and students…but it also extends well beyond the cockpit. We must possess an ability to build a rapport and connect with the student across the table.”

Clark started his career in the Air Force Academy, graduating in 2009. He went on to flight school, ending up at Kingsley Field as a student pilot where he learned to be an Eagle Driver. His time in Active Duty took him all over the world, serving in multiple leadership roles. In 2022 he decided to leave Active Duty and join the Air National Guard returning to Kingsley Field as Instructor Pilot.

173rd Fighter Wing IP becomes the first ANG Thunderbird pilot

“I look at the Thunderbirds as a unique opportunity to fulfill my dreams and passion for motivating others while getting to fly high-performance jets in airshows across the United States,” says Clark. “It’s really a fusion of everything I love!”

That passion started at a young age. “Going to airshows growing up sparked an interest in aviation that later led to fighter aviation,” he says. “Every year my family took me to see the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels. That always left me with a huge ‘WOW!’ factor and were always exciting to watch.”

He adds that his passion in life to have a positive impact on those around him.

“I’m really looking forward to interacting with the public, having a positive impact on communities, and inspiring that young kid…who used to be me!” Clark says.

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The path to Clark’s selection wasn’t direct. In fact, the first time he applied, he was not selected. “I don’t like taking ‘no” for an answer, so I continued pursing my dream!!” Clark says with a laugh.

Clark is not the first Team Kingsley member to be a part of the Thunderbirds. In 1999, Tech. Sgt. Kim Long, a 173rd Fighter Wing F-16 crew chief, was selected to be a member of the maintenance team for the Thunderbirds, serving with them until 2002.

The Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds perform precision aerial maneuvers demonstrating the capabilities of Air Force high performance aircraft to people throughout the world. The squadron exhibits the professional qualities the Air Force develops in the people who fly, maintain and support these aircraft.

A Thunderbirds air demonstration is a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The four-aircraft diamond formation demonstrates the training and precision of Air Force pilots, while the solo aircraft highlight the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The pilots perform approximately 30 maneuvers in a demonstration. The entire show, including ground and air, runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. The season lasts from March to November, with the winter months used to train new members.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force / Courtesy photo

US Air Force Major Tyler Clark, 173rd Fighter Wing F-15C Instructor Pilot, stands in front of the Thunderbird F-16s Jul. 6, 2023 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Clark was selected as one of the newest demonstration pilots for the US Air Force Demonstration Squadron in the 2024-2025 season.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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