Getting Personal: Flying high with the elite
July 18, 2007
UK weekly edition, Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Completing death-defying stunts high above thousands of spectators is just a normal occurrence for Maj. Nicole Malachowski and the rest of her U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds team.
Malachowski, who once worked as an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet instructor and a flight commander with the 494th Fighter Squadron, displayed her aerobatic skills in last weekend’s Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.
The former RAF Lakenheath officer, in her second and final season with the Thunderbirds, estimates that she has flown in more than 100 air shows with the team. She currently flies the number three jet as the right wing in the team’s diamond formation.
Stars and Stripes caught up with Malachowski following her team’s memorable performance, and a meet-and-greet session with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Saturday.
How do you feel about performing in what has been called the largest air show in the world? I think it’s very exciting for us to be able to represent the United States of America, but also to be alongside our British allies and other allies to celebrate freedom.
Do you ever get nervous while up in the air seeing thousands of people watching every little move you make? All that you feel is absolute excitement. There’s 100 percent mental concentration, mental stamina and endurance when you’re up there. Every now and then, out of the corner of your eye, you’ll catch a glimpse of the crowd. But just knowing everyone down there is having fun, it’s nothing short of pure fun and adrenaline.
Is there a lot of practice involved? During our training season from mid-November to mid-March, we fly Monday through Friday usually twice a day. It’s a long training season but it’s one where it’s a building block approach. We start off with two aircraft, very high above the ground and far apart from each other, and as our proficiency and confidence develops we’ll bring those aircraft closer together, closer to the ground and start adding aircraft until we end up in that beautiful Delta formation.
What goes through your mind when you’re flying only a few feet apart? You have to fly relaxed and you’re relying on the two “Ts” — training and teamwork. For me personally, it’s like an athlete going in the ring. You literally get yourself mentally psyched up for 30 minutes of intense mental and physical concentration and stamina.
Is there one aerobatic move that stands out and is tougher than the rest? Each position in the formation is very unique. Most of my concentration is utilized in our trail formations. That’s where we’re stacked one on top of each other, and I’m kind of in the middle of a trail sandwich.