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Tigers selected for Thunderbirds

Photo of F-16s flying

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron "Thunderbirds" perform over Atlantic City, N.J., August 20, 2019. Since 1953, the Thunderbirds team has served as America’s premier air demonstration squadron, entrusted with the vital mission to recruit, retain and inspire past, present and future Airmen. Come see the Thunderbirds in action at the Shaw Air and Space Expo in April, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cory W. Bush)

Photo of Airman

U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Grindstaff, 79th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon, poses by an F-16 Viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Grindstaff has been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

Photo of an Airman

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jacob Impellizzeri, 79th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot, poses by an F-16 Viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Impellizzeri has been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

Photo of U.S. Airman

Maj. Ian Lee is the Left Wing Pilot for the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. As Thunderbird 2, he flies the #2 jet and serves as the team's Navigation Officer. He is in his first year with the team. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by USAF Thunderbirds)

Photo of Airmen preparing to takeoff in an F-16

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jacob Impellizzeri, 79th Fighter Squadron (FS) F-16 pilot (left) and Capt. Travis Grindstaff, 79th FS flight surgeon, prepare for takeoff for their “fini-flight” at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Impellizzeri and Grindstaff have been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

Photo of Airmen departing an F-16

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jacob Impellizzeri, 79th Fighter Squadron (FS) F-16 pilot (left) and Capt. Travis Grindstaff, 79th FS flight surgeon, prepare for celebration after their “fini-flight” at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Impellizzeri and Grindstaff have been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

Photo of a group of Airmen and their families

A group of 79th Fighter Squadron (FS) Tigers and family pose by an F-16 Viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Beginning in 2022, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, will comprise three former 79th FS Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

Photo of Airman and his wife

U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Grindstaff, 79th FS flight surgeon (left) and his wife, Erin Grindstaff, pose by an F-16 Viper at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Sept. 9, 2021. Grindstaff has been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cody Sanders)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- When the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, take to the skies in 2022, three of the officers leading the team will be from the Air Force's top air dominance squadron in 2020, the 79th Fighter Squadron.

Capt. Travis Grindstaff, 79th FS flight surgeon and Capt. Jacob Impellizzeri, 79th FS pilot, will join former 79th FS Tiger, Maj. Ian Lee, Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron left wing pilot, on the team.

The desire to join the Air Force was instilled in both Impellizzeri and Grindstaff at a young age, with Impellizzeri being propelled into the aviation world.

“Between my dad taking our family to the airshow every year in Dayton to see the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels and him being a pilot in the Air Force, I have been around aviation all my life which ultimately led to myself becoming a fighter pilot,” said Impellizzeri.

Unlike his fellow teammates, joining the Air Force was not Lee’s radar until later on.
“My mother actually made me apply to the Air Force Academy, which turned out to be a great decision,” said Lee. “There were a lot of job opportunities coming out of the academy but I knew the most about being a pilot, so I pursued that.”

Once through college and their respective specialized training, they all came together in one squadron, the 79th Fighter Squadron, the most recent winner of the Raytheon Trophy.

“The Raytheon Trophy is awarded to the top air dominance squadron in the entire combat Air Force,” said Impellizzeri. “Just being around the type of people it takes to win that achievement is one of the main reasons we are in the positions that we are in, today.”

Grindstaff and Impellizzeri will be joining Lee, making up the highest percentage from one squadron on this year's Thunderbirds team.

“We are all three excited to be together on the Thunderbirds team,” said Grindstaff. “Taking that professionalism, dedication and infectious nature that we all have to make things better and grow as a family over the next year or two.”

From a fighter squadron executing combat deployments to displaying pride, precision and professionalism the U.S. Air Force represents, through airshows and flyovers; Grindstaff, Impellizzeri and Lee will have the opportunity to excite and inspire people all over the world.

“Most of the time people around the country just see jets flying, they don’t get to see the mission, the maintainers working 24/7 or other personnel who support the mission and keep this country safe,” said Grindstaff. “The Thunderbirds provide an opportunity for the public to see what we do and to be proud of what we do in fifteen minutes of an airshow. That’s how they recruit, retain and inspire but show our allies and Americans the professionalism, discipline and dedication to freedom for not only them but people all around the world.”

Grindstaff, Impellizzeri and Lee will be members of the Thunderbirds next year, but are scheduled to return to Shaw much sooner than you think.

“I’ve spent most of my Air Force career at Shaw Air Force Base, a total of four years, so I am excited to get back,” said Lee. “See you again in April, 2022, for the Shaw Air and Space Expo. All for freedom!”