As a young boy growing up just outside of Orlando, Florida, home to Walt Disney World, Air Force Maj. Zane Taylor could only dream of one day getting to fly over what he considered the most magical place on earth.
Yesterday, the 34-year-old airman, whose father was a Disney executive in charge of the park’s live entertainment, got to do just that as the number four slot pilot in the U.S. Air Force’s aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds.
“To be able to fly over the Magic Kingdom, having that experience growing up, is really special,” said Taylor, who uses the call sign “Strobe” and also serves as the team’s lead instructor.
A 2010 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Taylor previously deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve before joining the Thunderbirds, getting a bonus year to the traditional two-year assignment because of the pandemic.
In their F-16s, the team flew roughly 400 mph during two different passes over the iconic Cinderella Castle, a performance to honor National Veterans and Military Families Month. During the second pass, the squadron performed a Delta Burst maneuver, where six aircraft flew together in close proximity before breaking away from one another in a stunning display of aerial acrobatics.
“It’s easy to see the six airplanes flying and just think the team is six pilots, but we’re actually 130 professionals that make the mission happen,” Taylor told Military Times.
The Thunderbirds, which date back to 1953, are based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Their storied history of precision formations and high-speed passes includes previous visits to Disney, such as a 2010 trip when the group flew over the Magic Kingdom.
“The timing of this flight is ideal as Walt Disney World marks its 50th anniversary and the U.S. Air Force celebrate their 75th year,” retired Navy captain Cappy Surette, a spokesperson for Disney, told Military Times.
Surette added that Disney’s legacy with the military community dates back to the company’s founders. During World War I, Walt Disney volunteered as an ambulance driver with the Red Cross while his brother Roy served as a petty officer in the Navy.
Today, the Disney company continues to support service members and their families through a variety of projects, including the Heroes Work Here hiring initiative, the Heroes Supply Here program that supports veteran-owned businesses and a Veterans Institute Summit.
The Thunderbirds have two more demonstrations left in their schedule this season, the Central Florida Air & Space Show (Oct. 29-30) and the Aviation Nation Air Show at Nellis (Nov. 5-6).
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media