Guard ‘T-bird’ pilot wheels enthusiasm at nation’s capital [repost]

The first Air National Guard officer to serve on the Air Force Thunderbirds was enjoying his time in the nation’s capital.

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md (AFNS) — As acrobatic aircraft buzzed overhead as part of the run-up to the air show here May 16, Lt. Col. Derek Routt paid more notice to the parked, baby-blue and white business jets on the ground; aircraft used by the nation’s elected and military leaders. 

The first Air National Guard officer to serve on the Air Force Thunderbirds was enjoying his time in the nation’s capital May 14. It was his eighth event since joining the team. 

A trim, operations officer in his late 30s, Routt wore the dark-blue flight suit of the Thunderbirds with nary a thread out of place. So there was “no distinguishing between a Guard, Reserve or active-duty Thunderbird,” he said. 

“This is a true-to-form, Total Force team,” he said. “When I tell people that I am a guardsman it brings a lot of questions, and that allows me to talk about the Air Guard. But it really doesn’t matter what service or what capacity; to serve is the number one goal.” 

Even as a Nevada Air Guard member, Colonel Routt flew the F-15 Eagle in Nevada with what officials call the “most diverse wing in the Air Force” — the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. The Thunderbirds are based just down the street. 

“I had some people approach me about applying for the position, and I applied and went through the process,” he said. 

He made the grade. 

It is Colonel Routt’s first time working as an operations officer, and he is doing it as the second-in-command of the nation’s premiere F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron. 

“I run the operations business, which means I put aircraft in the air, put pilots into aircraft and make sure that their training is done. During the show, and all the way through our season, my number one job is safety,” he said. 

Colonel Routt will travel with the team — 11 officers and 120 enlisted Airmen
— on a schedule of air shows across the nation and as far as Hawaii up, until November. Then he will prepare for his second, and final, season. 

Colonel Routt flies Thunderbird No. 7 to and from shows. The plane is used as a spare and in support missions. 

“You can think of the operations officer as more of a producer of the show, who controls the air space, people, communications and gear,” he said. “While the guys are flying, I’m controlling the airfield and ensuring the team is doing it safe and properly.” 

Colonel Routt is overseeing operations of a squadron constantly under the public eye, where its ground-air movements are highly coordinated, planned and synchronized. Colonel Routt supervises the safety of pilots who fly near supersonic speeds within feet of each other.

But he was looking around the flight line more a spectator than a participant. He said his status and schedule has not dulled his childhood excitement for air shows and airplanes. 

“Wouldn’t it be great to take that up,” he said, smiling and pointing toward a vintage, World War II fighter aircraft. “Now that would be awesome.” 

By Eartheditor

Hello. I am a prior U.S. Navy sailor and photojournalist serving on active duty with the National Guard – combined, for more than 24 years. This blog features my more memorable stories and photos from that news pile as well as creative writing. All images and stories are by me unless otherwise credited. I hope to backlog more as well as write new stories. Thank you so much.
- Mike R. Smith

One reply on “Guard ‘T-bird’ pilot wheels enthusiasm at nation’s capital [repost]”

Reblogged this on eartheditor and commented:

A colleague of mine, a very talented photographer, asked me recently if I ever took portraits of the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds, and I did not think I had. But when he mentioned Colonel Routt with the Nevada Guard, I suddenly remembered this story one day, many years ago. Apparently, they were looking for stories and photos of the Colonel for when takes command of the 177th Fighter Wing. I often wonder about the outcomes of the people I spotlighted, but their names and faces are a blur. This was just one man that I interviewed for an assignment and then never saw again. My congratulations to you, Colonel Routt.


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