HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Half a million people attended last weekend’s open house and air show at Hill Air Force Base, and a small group of attendees kept a very close eye on one jet.
That plane — the No. 7 F-16 for the Air Force’s premier air demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds — was flown by Maj. Tyler Ellison, a career pilot who has special ties to and deep roots in the Davis County community that surrounds the base.
Ellison, 35, spent his formative years in Layton after his family moved there from California when he was in junior high. He attended Kaysville Junior High School, then went on to Davis High School.
Ellison, whose father was a pilot for Delta Airlines, received his pilot’s license when he was 16, a few months before he got his driver’s license.
“It’s true,” he said. “I learned how to fly before I could drive.”
After Ellison graduated from Davis High, he entered the Air Force in 2002 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has been flying with the Thunderbirds for the last year and a half. Before that, he was aide-de-camp to the commander at the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
He has logged more than 1,000 flight hours in the F-15C and F-22A as an Air Force pilot.
“The Thunderbirds are a very unique squadron,” Ellison said.
“You usually have to have 10 years’ experience as a pilot before you can join, so it’s been a great opportunity for me to change hats for a few years and fly around the world showcasing the Air Force.”
Nearing the end of his two-year stint with the Thunderbirds, Ellison is used to performing his aerobatics for people all over the globe, but he said this weekend stands apart from any other show he has been involved in.
Ellison’s parents and his wife’s parents still live in Davis County, so the pilot visits often, but this trip is obviously different from the rest.
“It’s just incredibly exciting to be back home and be here doing a show. It’s something I never would have fathomed in a million years,” he said.
“I always wanted to fly fighters and be in the combat Air Force, but flying with the Thunderbirds in my hometown is something I couldn’t have ever imagined.”
After arriving June 26 at Hill, Ellison revisited old stomping grounds and saw some familiar faces, despite a hectic schedule that included a practice demonstration on Friday and a “Hometown Hero” flight on Thursday when Ellison took a Syracuse resident for a ride in his F-16.
“I’ve got a pretty tight schedule, but I’m going to have dinner with my family here and say hi to some old friends and neighbors,” he said.
Ellison said his ancestors were among the early settlers of Layton and raised cattle on the land that is now Hill Air Force Base. He said despite where his career takes him, he will be inextricably linked to this area.
“And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than this (air show).”