NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – The commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mark D. Kelly, has officially selected the next Thunderbird commander to lead the United States Air Force Thunderbirds for the 2022 and 2023 demonstration seasons.
Lt. Col. Justin Elliott, commander of the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will become Thunderbird 1, the squadron’s commander and lead pilot next year. As the two-fold duty title implies, Elliott will command a force of more than 120 enlisted personnel and 11 commissioned officers assigned to the team, along with leading all of the demonstration flights.
Elliott commissioned from Yale University in 2005 and became an F-15E pilot in 2007. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and logged over 2000 hours of flight time with more than 255 hours of combat pilot experience.
“This is incredible news for the Thunderbirds, Team Nellis and the Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander. “I congratulate Lt. Col. Elliott on this huge accomplishment and have full confidence he will succeed in leading the Thunderbirds in their mission to recruit, retain and inspire around the globe.”
Elliott will replace Col. John Caldwell following the 2021 show season. Additionally, the team also selected Maj. Ryan Yingling, of the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron, to serve as Thunderbird 7, the operations officer for the 2021 and 2022 season starting in June 2021. Yingling is an experienced A-10 pilot who has flown more than 3,000 flight hours, including more than 1,000 combat hours.
Previously, Maj. Thomas Werner was selected to fill the Thunderbird 7 position for the 2021 and 2022 show season; however, due to unforeseen assignment circumstances, Yingling will now fill the position. He will replace Lt. Col. Kevin DiFalco, who will become a commander of another Air Force squadron in June.
Thunderbirds 12, the team’s public affairs officer, will also be replaced and announced next month. By design, the position openings are staggered, allowing the squadron to maintain continuity of experience and leadership.