“This is a big deal for you guys, but it’s a big deal for us as well,” said Major Lauren Schlichting, pilot of the No.4 jet for the Air Force Thunderbirds. She made her remarks having just arrived from Iowa during her 16th stop on a 33-show schedule planned for the year.
For Schlichting coming to Traverse City reminds her of coming home. A native of Stillwater, Minnesota, her hometown is slightly bigger than Traverse City and she is very proud of her roots. “It makes my Midwest heart happy. I’m the happiest camper,” said Schlichting. She also notes that three members of the Thunderbird’s crew are from Traverse City. As if to testify to her Midwest pride, Major Schlichting’s online bio takes credit for “surviving the great white north” by embracing hockey and snowboarding.
Schlichting is also proud of the Thunderbird's history. Celebrating its 70th year as the precision flight team for the Airforce, Schlichting proudly points to decals on her jet that show all 63 countries the Thunderbirds have performed in during their history.
The goal of the air show is to demonstrate the pride, precision, and professionalism exhibited with maneuvers that often have these high-powered F-16 jets just inches apart.
An 11-year veteran of the Air Force, this is Schlichting’s second year flying with the team. She recognizes that since the show center is in the middle of West Grand Traverse Bay, with hills just to the west of the show line, it creates challenges. “Every show has its challenges, but we study each site carefully,” Schlichting said.
Schlichting takes it in stride that she is the only woman pilot on the team, and the sixth in the history of the Thunderbirds. She knows she stands on the shoulders of the previous women pilots, and names every woman who has piloted these crafts. She waves off recognition that she is any kind of aviation pioneer because of her gender, she feels those pioneers are the ones that paved the way for her.