When ‘Gucci’ Met ‘Mace’ – What happens when a former Blue Angel meets up with a former Thunderbird? Read all about it here…

There aren’t many who can say they’ve flown with one of the world’s top flight demonstration teams – so John “Gucci” Foley loves it when he gets the chance to connect with other top pilots and talk shop. 

You see, becoming a top flight demonstration pilot isn’t a job – it’s a mindset. A mindset that can be learned through connecting with and listening to others, and applied to any goal in any area of your life. 

Michelle ‘Mace’ Curran is one of five women to fly for the Thunderbirds, and only the second ever to fly solo. Her professional achievements are exceptional and her flying career is inspiring.

John and Michelle both flew in similar positions, Gucci for the Blue Angels and Mace with the Thunderbirds. As you can imagine they could have chatted for hours but here are just some of the highlights from their recent catch-up. 

Mace spoke about how instrumental the Air Force has been in shaping her attitude, professionalism, and ability to thrive in a team.

Recruit, Retain & Inspire 

A strong dynamic team will result in success, no matter your job. In regards to being a member of a flight demonstration squad, teamwork and clear communication are essential to maintain everyone’s safety.

For the Thunderbirds, every member would have a say in the hiring process of team members. Operators are actively encouraged to say who they think will be the best fit and recommend anyone that they believe has the potential to excel. 

In her three years with the team, Mace never witnessed a switch out and recommendations were not overlooked. 

Everyone got involved at every level. And although the decision is ultimately made by those higher up the ranks, every opinion and suggestion was always listened to. 

This kind of respect filters down to every single person and creates a fantastic work dynamic.

Hiring is always going to be important when recruiting for a team like the Thunderbirds. They retain their team by ensuring good morale. If you feel listened to, you feel valued and respected. 

When Mace became the second female solo pilot, she felt immensely proud to be a representative. It creates such a positive impact for women because seeing women fly is going to encourage even more women to do the same.

The Covid Flyovers

The isolation that many endured during those early days of the pandemic hit people hard. Being able to put on the covid flyovers provided a lot of joy. Mace recalls a message she received from a woman who was able to take her father outside his home to watch. 

Being a VET he was thrilled to see them perform their aircraft flyovers and his daughter was so happy for him. He sadly passed away soon after their performance and his daughter had reached out to Michelle to thank her and let her know that it provided her with the closure that she needed. She remembers the sheer joy on his face during such a dark time. Michelle made sure to share this with the whole team who took a lot of comfort from it.  

Inspiring Others

Inspiring others is a perk of any job, and it’s heartwarming when you get to hear stories about how you might have inspired others.

Mace was lucky enough to experience one such story. 

The rise of social media has meant that people can reach out and talk to Michelle. She loves this and always tries to respond to the messages she gets, even outside of her working hours. She loves to share any advice that she can.

In 2019 a girl reached out to her explaining that she was heading to do her pilot training in Columbus and that she was super nervous. She asked her for advice because she had no aviation experience, zero flight time, and was a non-technical major. This girl was feeling scared and totally out of her depth.

For Michelle, it was like this girl was her 12 years ago. She too had entered pilot training with zero hours of flight time, she was a criminal justice major and she went to Columbus. She happily divulged all of this information to the girl and offered her reassurance and any tips she could for good study habits and getting the most out of her time there. The girl was thankful and the exchange ended.

During Michelle’s third year with the Thunderbirds, the same girl contacted her again and told her that she had done it. Tomorrow she was due to fly the F15! Michelle felt it was awesome that she could be a small footnote in this girl’s journey. She was proud to have had an impact, however small.

The All Important Debrief

Communication is essential to successfully fly with this kind of squadron and if you’ve followed John for a while, you’ll know how important a debrief is to the Blue Angels.

It’s no different for the Thunderbirds.

Going through all the moves after every show was essential to not only make personal improvements but to get better as a team too. 

Every maneuver was watched back and discussed. It was rare that any of them got it perfect! They used terms like Tee Tee for teeny tiny and Trip Tee for teeny, teeny tiny. 

If your move was wide then it was wide to everyone watching, but if you said Tee Tee wide then the only people who would have noticed were those who had seen the demo several times. If you were Trip Tee wide then the only person noticing is likely the team or former alumni.

Michelle, like John, took on the Left Wing, which is arguably the hardest position. It’s exceptionally hard to push while rolling a jet so you have to be able to adapt to challenges and changes. 

The debrief is a safe environment to fess up and learn ways that you can improve.

The debriefing process, for Michelle, is a bit like a game whack of mole. Mistakes are always popping up.

You can’t have this high level of performance without making mistakes. They require discussing and the all-important debrief makes this possible.  

What Makes Michelle Glad To Be Here?

Michelle has taken away a lot both professionally and personally from being a Thunderbird.

Professionally, she can move on to new challenges confidently. Using all the knowledge obtained from successful team debriefing, and how the culture of teamwork creates the right attitude and environment for everyone to perform to a higher standard. 

On a personal level, she has a much better perspective on things.

She’s grateful for what she has been able to do for others and for the caliber of people she’s had the honor of working with. Currently transitioning from active duty in the Air Force and leaving the Thunderbirds, she’s also really grateful to have more time with her family.

She’s glad for the whole adventure and the new one she’s about to embark on.

Listen to the High Performance Zone Podcast with Gucci and Mace on Apple Podcasts Spotify or YouTube.