MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
It was a cloudy day in Belgium in 1996. The overcast didn’t make it a perfect day for flying, but that didn’t stop the F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team or the crowd that had gathered to see an airshow at Chievres Air Base. In fact, it allowed the crowd to feel a little closer as the demo team performed their low show due to cloud cover. It was a perfect day for them to wow the crowd that was there to see them, and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds did not disappoint.
In 1996, the Thunderbirds impressed a 10-year-old boy who attended his first airshow with a friend’s family. It was in that moment as he watched the Thunderbirds fly overhead that he decided to pursue becoming a pilot - an Air Force fighter pilot.
That boy was Maj. Josiah “Sirius” Gaffney, 35th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations, the newest commander of the Pacific Air Forces' F-16 Fighting Falcon Demonstration Team.
“I‘ve been fascinated with airplanes for as long as I can remember,” Gaffney said. “To me, they are among the most amazing machines humanity has ever devised. It’s compelling - the idea that you can get in one of these machines and thereby have the freedom to fly yourself through the sky at will.”
Gaffney, a prior instructor pilot at the F-16 schoolhouse at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, began his journey to become an Air Force fighter pilot by commissioning as an Air Force officer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy in 2009.
Along with earning a commission, a fighter pilot must also complete additional prerequisite education and training, which takes an additional two-plus years from his first flight until he achieves basic mission qualification in an Air Force fighter aircraft, all while being analyzed at every step of the way.
For Gaffney, this period of time was the most difficult part of becoming a pilot, but he kept himself motivated by focusing on his dream – becoming a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
“Once the goal is set, all of the difficulties encountered during education and training are simply obstacles to overcome,” Gaffney said. “Once I started learning to fly, the second thing that helped was recognizing I had been given a precious opportunity to enter a career field that relatively few people ever get the chance to pursue. That perspective motivated me to give my best effort when things were difficult, so as not to let myself down.”
When things got difficult, Gaffney relied on the people who were his support system to help him be resilient. His wife, Stephanie, offered support and encouragement throughout the pilot-training process. Gaffney also credits his fellow highly-motivated pilot students and instructors for helping get him through the challenges of becoming a fighter pilot.
“It created an atmosphere of excellence that encouraged me to step up when things got difficult and provided a group of people that we could collectively lean on for help when we needed it,” Gaffney said.
His passion for planes and commitment to excellence caught the attention of his squadron leadership.
“Maj. Gaffney has successfully completed a rigorous 35-ride upgrade program to become the new PACAF demo pilot,” said Lt. Col. David Madson, 35 OSS commander. “I’m excited that Sirius will get the opportunity to represent the 35th Fighter Wing and strengthen partnerships across the (Indo-Pacific Command) theatre while showcasing the amazing capabilities of the F-16.”
Similar to how he got through his initial pilot training, Gaffney used his support system to achieve his latest goal of becoming a PACAF F-16 Demo Team pilot.
“I wanted to be part of the team because it's an opportunity to share my passion for flying and Air Force aviation with people everywhere,” Gaffney said. “That sense of wonder I always get when I watch a plane fly overhead - the amazement that 10-year-old me felt when I saw my first airshow - is what inspired me to serve my country by working to become a fighter pilot.”
His wife still offers support and encouragement, and his fellow demo team members provide that atmosphere of excellence, which allows them to push through difficult times together.
“The men and women on the demo team are outstanding, hardworking professionals who also know have to have a great time,” Gaffney said. “It's been awesome getting to know them for the past couple of months. I can't wait to hit the road with this team as we travel together to perform at airshows all over Japan and around the Pacific.”
Although COVID-19 has postponed some of their plans, the demo team continues to train once a week to make sure they are ready to showcase the F-16 capabilities when that time comes.
“I'm thrilled at the opportunity to execute the PACAF F-16 Demonstration Team's mission - to showcase U.S. air combat capability and the dedication of the Airmen who make that capability possible, thereby inspiring strengthened relationships and goodwill with our friends and security partners throughout the Pacific region,” Gaffney said. “The ongoing pandemic has obviously prevented us from performing quite a few airshows this year, but we are still hard at work practicing, preparing, and looking forward to the day when we can once again put on a great show at an airfield near you! I can't wait!”