SK Grad Flying High

Chris Austin, SKHS Class of 1990, joins the elite Thunderbirds flight squadron.

On the Web: Visit the USAF Thunderbirds Web site

Classmates of Chris Austin, a 1990 graduate of South Kitsap High School, may remember a skinny blond kid with thick black eyebrows and a winning smile. At Burley-Glenwood and Manchester Elementary schools, he was the kid always drawing planes that streaked across the sky of his childhood imagination.
Like many youngsters, Austin dreamed of becoming a pilot. Today, Maj. Chris Austin is a member of the fabled Thunderbirds precision Air Force flying squadron, currently embarked on a worldwide tour.
As the Thunderbirds’ left wing pilot, Austin flies at 600 miles per hour, his jet a mere three feet from others in the squadron. For Austin, 35, it’s the thrill of a lifetime, but ask him what excites him the most about his new assignment, and he’ll talk about the people on the ground.

“I love the fact we represent the 513,000 men and women of the Air Force. Sometimes we represent the entire military. It’s quite humbling. It’s a huge honor,” said Austin, speaking from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Thursday, where he was doing a show.
Austin, who has served two tours of duty as a pilot in Iraq, said, when he’s flying with the Thunderbirds, he thinks of the servicemen and servicewomen stationed in that country, Afghanistan and other war-torn areas of the world.
“Most of the kids in Iraq and Afghanistan are just young kids doing the best they can,” Austin said. “Whether you agree or disagree with war, the bottom line is, our military men and women, they’re some of the best people I’ve ever met.”
Austin also has a soft spot in his heart for kids. As a member of the Thunderbirds, he and his fellow pilots regularly speak to school and youth groups, and the squadron often visits with seriously ill children through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Austin’s mother, Cathy Pinard of South Colby, is understandably proud of her son. She says she gets chills whenever she watches his squadron perform.
“It makes your heart beat when you see them taking off down the runway together, and they’re just inches apart,” said Pinard, who saw Austin’s first public flight with the Thunderbirds March 24 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The Thunderbirds will continue touring the United States before continuing their 2007 tour overseas.
The Thunderbirds, the Air Force equivalent of the Navy’s Blue Angels, were formed in 1953 as a flight demonstration squadron. Through the years, the squadron has served to inspire all members of the military and civilians with their high altitude ballet designed to showcase the precision and maneuverability of the Air Force F-16 fighter jet. But the Thunderbirds are not just for show; they’re fully combat ready.
Austin has seen his share of combat. After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 1995, he completed flight training in 1997. He has been deployed to Bosnia, Korea, Iraq, Italy and Djibouti, Africa. He was tapped to join the Thunderbirds last summer and began training with the elite corps in November. He is currently assigned to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Austin said he’s never been the best student or the best anything, but he never let go of his dream.
“I always knew I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “I never gave up. I was always improving my study skills, my athletic skills, my personal skills. I was always working at it.”
Austin, who now calls Huntington Beach, Calif., home, is the son of the late Richard Austin, the step-son of the late Vic Pinard and the grandson of Ivan Kapovich of Harper. His grandmother Vivian Kapovich is deceased. Austin’s wife, Sia Austin, is also an Air Force major. His sister Angie Watkins of San Antonio, Texas, is a retired Air Force master sergeant. His other sister, Michelle Addie, lives in Bremerton.

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