A new Thunderbird: Shelby County native set to spread wings in world-famous squadron

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Chris Stricklin grew up wanting to be a pilot. He’s not sure why &045; he just did.

&uot;I always knew from the time I could walk, this is what I wanted to do,&uot; he said with a smile.

The Shelby native received his pilot’s license at the age of 16 at the Shelby County Airport. Back then, he was flying Cessnas and other small aircraft.

Now Stricklin, a 12-year United States Air Force veteran with combat experience, will be flying a 33,000 pound F-16 Fighting Falcon, a jet which has a top speed of more than 1,300 miles per hour. The kicker is he will be flying the F-16 as a member of the famous Air Force Thunderbirds.

Stricklin was named a member of the prestigious 150-member squadron only a few weeks ago. He will be a captain, one of only 12 officers in the squadron.

The Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, known to most as the Thunderbirds, performs precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern high-performance aircraft to people throughout the world.

Since the unit’s inception in 1953, more than 315 million people in all 50 states and 60 foreign countries have witnessed the red, white and blue jets.

Stricklin will be based in Las Vegas, Nev., and will perform in some 70 shows a year at more than 40 locations nationwide from March to November. He will spend the other three months training.

He will serve a two-year assignment with the squadron.

&uot;I always knew about (the Thunderbirds). I had a friend who was one, and I asked him what it was like. After that I liked the sound of it,&uot; he said. &uot;I was a ways along in my career and I just chose to try to become a Thunderbird.&uot;

Along for the ride, so to speak, will be his wife, Terri, a Wilsonville native, and their two children, 6-year-old Zach and 4-year-old Bethy. The family moves to Nevada next week.

&uot;I’m very excited for him. He worked very hard for it. We are all really proud of him,&uot; Terri Stricklin said.

Terri Stricklin, however, can’t fly with her husband. The Air Force does not allow spouses to ride as passengers.

&uot;They let us taxi down the runway to feel the jet thrust,&uot; she said.

The 30-year-old pilot began his Air Force career soon after graduating from Shelby County High School in 1990, the same year as his wife.

Since then, Stricklin has built an accomplished resum.

He is a 1994 graduate of the Air Force Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama with a degree in economics.

He received a master’s degree in aeronautical science in 2001 at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

He has more than 1,200 hours of flying time mostly with the F-15 Fighter,

refining his skills in places such as Sheppard AFB in Texas and Elgin AFB in Florida.

He spent the last year as a flight commander and instructor at Tyndall AFB, also in Florida.

In addition, Stricklin has 149 hours of combat experience. Much of that time came while patrolling the No-Fly-Zone bordering Iraq.

&uot;I’ve flown all over the world,&uot; he said.

Stricklin will now have the opportunity to perform formation flying and solo routines.

The pilots perform about 30 maneuvers in a demonstration

&045; maneuvers like the 8-Point Roll where the pilot performs a 360-degree roll six times in four seconds.

He said he’s not sure why he feels the need for speed.

&uot;I can’t explain it. It is just a huge adrenaline rush,&uot; he said. &uot;I can’t put it into words. Everyday I fly, I feel like it’s the first time I climbed the ladder onto the jet.&uot;

Terri Stricklin said she doesn’t worry when she sees her husband fly with his wings sometimes only

three feet from another jet in a high precision formation.

&uot;I know they practice a lot, and they know what they are doing,&uot; she said.

As far as their children, she said, &uot;They know he’s an adrenaline junkie. They understand it because that is all they have known their whole lives.&uot;