Daniel Katz ’09 selected as a Thunderbird for the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron


Printed with permission of George Fenimore

Captain Daniel Katz ’09, who serves on the United States Air Force Demonstration Team, flies his number six plane upright during the 2022 Andrews Air Force Base airshow. Katz is pictured performing the calypso pass maneuver in an F-16.

Everett Lakey

Air Force Capt. Daniel Katz 09 was promoted in July to the Thunderbird Squadron, which flies during air demonstrations by the Air Force. The performances showcase both the pilots skills and the capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the aircraft that the squadron uses.

The Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft. The squad is an Air Combat Command unit made up of 8 pilots, 4 support officers, 3 civilians and over 130 enlisted personnel, according to the Air Forces website.

After graduating from Harvard-Westlake, Katz studied Science and Economics at the Air Force Academy, where he also became an officer. He then went to pilot training in Columbus, Mississippi, and later at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where he trained to be a specialist in the F-16 aircraft. 

To be accepted into the squadron, Katz said he had to complete a nine-month application process that included creating a resume, collecting flying evaluations from his career in the military and getting recommendations from commanders.

“There’s like 35 applicants that had applied that have the qualifications to make it to the semi-finalists, then eight of us made it to the finals,” said Katz. “From there, its the processes [of doing] loops and rolls with the commander. So youre actually flying an airplane, [and] its a much more intense interview process. And then you spend about four or five days with the team, and they just kind of get to know you a little better. We spend so much time with each other that you really spend more time with the team than our families back home, and they want to make sure that it’s a good match so that you can spend a lot of time on the road together and create a good family environment.”

Katz said he felt honored to have been selected for the Thunderbird squadron.

“It’s something I never thought would happen,” said Katz. “Coming from Los Angeles, it’s pretty rare to try and join the military. It was just one of the things that I was kind of always interested in. And then to be selected is truly an honor. It’s been a really, really amazing experience to be able to reach all over the U.S. [and] a little bit of Canada [and] hopefully in the next few years the world to connect and inspire the next generation of Americans as well as just inspire people to give the best versions of themselves. That’s really what we’re all about.”

Katz said he hopes to talk to members of the school community about his military experiences in the future.

I think [the military has] allowed me to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do, Katz said. It’s allowed me to travel places and meet folks that are really one-of-a-kind. I think we have a couple of shows in California next year. So if anybody’s interested in coming, just have them reach out to me, and I’d be happy to show them around.”