MILWAUKEE — The United States Air Force Thunderbirds return to Milwaukee at the end of the month with a Wisconsin native in the cockpit. She is really excited to take the skies over her home state at the Milwaukee Air & Water Show.
Captain Michelle Curran is from Medford, in the northwestern part of the state. Out of high school, she entered the ROTC program at the University of St. Thomas looking to broaden her horizons.
"I've always been a little bit of a thrill seeker," Curran admitted. "I wanted to travel. Didn't necessarily want to stay in my small town. So, I looked into different options and Air Force seemed like a good way to do that."
The Air Force has certainly delivered on that promise. Captain Curran has been stationed all over the world having completed more than 160 combat hours at the controls of an F-16 fighter.
"It was really rewarding," Curran said of her combat flying. "I guess at that point I had been training to do the mission for about five years without actually going into combat, so it was very rewarding to finally go do the mission, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to do that for sure."
As much as she loves what she does in the air, Curran felt a calling to the performance team because of what the Thunderbirds accomplish on the ground.
"The flying is really fun," Curran said. "It's challenging and it's demanding, which I like. The best part is being put in this position where I can inspire maybe the next generation to pursue something similar to this or to just be the best version of themselves, whichever way that comes to fruition."
A large part of that is talking about her pioneering role as a woman in the cockpit. While it’s not new, it’s still relatively rare.
"I mean, the first females in combat were in the early 90s. It's been a long time. It should be more common than it is, I think," she said. "It's still constantly something that raises eyebrows and people are surprised by it. Some people are downright shocked by it. I want that to be less common, but at the same time I know it's not there yet. So, I take it with a grain of salt, people's reaction but I try to remember that I'm inspiring and hopefully changing that. Regardless of how they react when they find out what I do for a living."
In her first season with the Thunderbirds, this will be Captain Curran’s first show in front of a Wisconsin crowd. She says she’s heard great things from others about performing in Milwaukee, but for her it will be extra special.
"I'm looking forward to getting some cheese curds and some good beer and some nice Wisconsin hospitality for sure."
TODAY'S TMJ4's Vince Vitrano got a chance to fly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels when they were in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Air & Water Show is July 27th and 28th on Milwaukee’s lakefront. It’s free if you can find a spot, though there are plenty of ticketed areas with amenities and parking options as well. Information on that, and all show times is listed here.