San Antonio-based pilot selected to join Air Force Thunderbirds

Maj. Thomas Werner, of the 182nd Fighter Squadron at Texas Air National Guard in Kelly Field, will join team this summer

The Thunderbirds in San Antonio. (KSAT, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – The newest member of the Air Force Thunderbirds is “an experienced leader and skilled F-16 pilot” from San Antonio.

The Thunderbirds on Wednesday night announced Maj. Thomas Werner, of the 182nd Fighter Squadron at Texas Air National Guard, will serve as the team’s operations officer.

Werner, who works out of Kelly Field, will start with the flight team in June.

Leading the team’s operations section, he will “oversee all air space coordination and perform safety observation and ground communication with the pilots during aerial demonstrations,” according to the Thunderbirds.

It is our pleasure to announce our Thunderbird 7 officer selection for the 2021 - 2022 show seasons: Maj Thomas Werner,...

Posted by Air Force Thunderbirds on Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The team said he is a “skilled F-16 pilot” with 2,400 hours of experience, including 912 combat hours in Operation Enduring Freedom.

“We are excited for him to join our team and carry on the mission of representing America’s Air Force,” the Thunderbirds said.

He will replace Lt. Col. Kevin “Gator” DiFalco, who was selected for command.

The Thunderbirds captivated U.S. cities last spring with a series of flyovers to thank frontline workers in the coronavirus pandemic.

The flyovers, dubbed “Operation: America Strong,” came to San Antonio and Austin on May 13, stunning thousands of people who were looking up at the sky or watching on their phones or television sets.

KSAT photographers capture Thunderbirds flight over San Antonio

The origins of the Thunderbirds can be partially traced back to San Antonio and Kelly Field.

In June 1917, the 30th Aero Squadron was organized at Kelly Field and activated in World War I. It was demobilized a year later and then reconstituted as the 30th Bombardment Squadron in 1923.

The 30th Bombardment Squadron was reassigned to Kelly Field from 1930-1932, but was organized as a Regular Army Inactive (RAI). The squadron was discontinued and inactivated on Feb. 1, 1963.

Ten years earlier, the Thunderbirds were officially activated on June 1, 1953, as the 3600th Air Demonstration Team at Luke AFB, Ariz.

In September 1985, the 30th Bombardment Squadron was consolidated with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, which is the squadron known publicly as the Thunderbirds.

KSAT reporter RJ Marquez contributed to this report.

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Rebecca Salinas has worked as a digital journalist in San Antonio for six years. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.