Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hammond
Master of Cyber Warfare, 2011
AFIT alum Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hammond has been selected to join the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” as Thunderbird No. 1, the squadron’s commander and lead pilot. He will have the unique dual responsibilities of commanding a force of commissioned officers and enlisted service members assigned to the squadron, along with leading all demonstration flights that are designed to highlight some of the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The Thunderbirds squadron is an Air Combat Command unit composed of eight pilots (including six demonstration pilots), four support officers, four civilians and more than 100 enlisted personnel performing in almost 30 job specialties.
The squadron’s mission is to plan and present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high-performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft. Within this mission, the team has several objectives, including to support Air Force recruiting and retention programs. “I believe in the recruitment mission and representation of the Air Force. In light of current budget constraints and sequestration, it is even more important that we recruit the best people for our future force.”
Lt Col Hammond always wanted to be an Air Force fighter pilot and the Thunderbirds have been an influential force behind that dream. “They have definitely been a motivator toward pursuing an Air Force career as well as to be a pilot.”
Lt Col Hammond earned his master’s degree in cyber warfare at AFIT in 2011. “My degree from AFIT has helped in many aspects of my career so far. It took me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to a discipline that I didn’t have a background in. As a result I became better prepared for follow on assignments. Earning an AFIT masters degree in cyber warfare exposed me to both the space and cyber domains and ultimately enhanced my overall perspective and understanding of the greater Air Force mission.”
It was a change to go back to school, but he enjoyed the experience and believes that the program “…equips our officers with a good technical background in a lot of relevant areas.” He was exposed to the up and coming cyber warfare that the Air Force has been tasked with. “That is important because whether as an action officer advising our senior leaders, or as a future leader of our Air Force, graduates from AFIT have accumulated the base knowledge to positively affect Air Force decisions on technical subjects relevant to our service.”
“AFIT’s mission and the impact it has on the DoD is extremely important. The Air Force has a long standing tradition of being on the leading edge of technology since its inception. AFIT and the graduates it produces support our ability to carry on that tradition and maintain our technological advantage on the battlefield.”
The advice he has for AFIT students is to “…take advantage of situations where you are with Airmen from other disciplines. Try to learn from them, how they fit into the war fight, and, ultimately, how your Service operates.”
Lt Col Hammond is currently the director of operations for the 16th Weapons Squadron at the USAF Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. “One of the things that most excites me about going to work is the people that we have in the Air Force – we have extremely high quality personnel. The Thunderbirds are no different there. I get to work with some extremely dedicated and highly motivated individuals who are excited about the mission the team has. Everybody on the team has had great experiences in the Air Force, and we are all excited to tell the public about those experiences and convey what a positive thing service to our country is. It is important that we recruit similar highly motivated and dedicated individuals into our service for our future Air Force.”
Beginning in October Lt Col Hammond will start his two-year assignment with the Thunderbirds by attending some of the current team’s last shows. His team will start flying in November and have five months to learn the flight maneuvers before they begin their show season in March 2015. As Thunderbird One, he will serve as Commander of the team helping the team prepare for the mission, setting goals and vision, as well as having the unique responsibility of leading all of the flight demonstrations during the show season.
The pilots perform approximately 40 maneuvers in a demonstration. During several of the maneuvers, the planes fly as close as 18 inches from each other. He isn’t nervous to learn the Thunderbirds aerobatic and demonstration maneuvers though. “I am extremely honored and humbled to be chosen as the next Thunderbird One. I will be following in the footsteps of some incredible leaders, officers, and pilots. I am very excited to join a team that is dedicated to representing the U.S. Air Force around the world.”
The year 2015 will be the squadron’s 62nd season as the Air Force’s premier jet demonstration team. From mid-March till mid-November, the team travels around the country and abroad, showcasing the pride, precision and professionalism embodied by American Airmen serving around the world.