The Thunderbirds announced who will become the squadron’s commander and lead pilot after the previous commander was relieved last month.

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh will become Thunderbird No. 1, the Thunderbirds announced on Wednesday.

Walsh, a 2002 Air Force Academy graduate, will lead more than 130 enlisted personnel and 11 officers assigned to the squadron, along with all demonstration flights.

He just completed his second season wtih the team as Thunderbird No. 7, the squadron’s operations officer, according to the news release.

“Kevin’s extensive flying experience and rapport within the Thunderbirds makes him a perfect fit to command the team,” Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander, said in the release. “I have full faith he will lead the team through a successful 2018 show season.”

Walsh is also a graduate of the Air Force Weapons School and has logged more than 2,000 flying hours, including more than 500 hours of combat pilot experience.

The former commander, Lt. Col. Jason Heard, was relieved due to a loss of “confidence in his leadership and risk management style,” according to an Air Force news release.

Heard had led the demonstration squadron since Jan. 6 and was relieved on Nov. 20.

The Thunderbirds had a highly publicized mishap during Heard’s tenure. In June, an F-16D crashed when it landed too fast, skidded off a wet runway and overturned in the grass, injuring the pilot, according to an Accident Investigation Board. The $29 million aircraft was destroyed.

But Heard’s removal was unrelated to that incident, according to Maj. Raymond Geoffroy, a spokesman for the Thunderbirds.

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at

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