Georgia Teacher of the Year flies with Thunderbirds

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  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A local teacher took time away from her class recently to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.


Tracey Pendley, an Atlanta Public Schools fourth-grade teacher, flew with the Thunderbirds here Friday.


In addition to being named Georgia’s Teacher of the Year, she was also nominated as a Hometown Hero, a program which allows exceptional community members to be nominated for a familiarization flight in a Thunderbirds jet, an F-16 Fighting Falcon.


“The recognition is just something that teachers don’t get a whole lot of and for the Air Force to honor a teacher here in my hometown, it’s really special,” said Pendley. “I just want to give back all of that shine and all of that recognition not only to the men and women who are serving us, but also to the amazing teachers who not only impacted me and my professional development, but to those who are impacting our students every day.”


After getting fitted for her oxygen mask and anti-gravity flight suit, Pendley stepped out onto the flightline and climbed into the cockpit of one of the eight Thunderbirds lined up on the Dobbins flightline. Maj. Jason Markzon, Thunderbirds advance pilot and narrator, climbed into the front seat and after some pre-flight checks taxied to the runway where they made their ascent into the clear blue sky.

The flight lasted approximately an hour, but the thrills lasted long after Pendley exited the cockpit. She was greeted with hugs from her husband and two children who eagerly awaited her return.


“I’m completely just exhilarated,” said Pendley. “It was so exciting. I knew it would be a lot of fun leading up to it, but I didn’t realize how freeing it would feel. I felt completely safe and completely free.”


Besides sharing the moment with her family at home, she also plans to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with her students.


“My personal experiences allow me to connect with kids,” said Pendley. “I like to tell the kids that when they say they can’t do something, I say, ‘You can’t do it, yet, but you are going to do it.’”