Thunderbird pilot raised in Layton to perform in air show

Friday , June 27, 2014 - 4:10 PM

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — While half a million people are expected to attend this weekend’s air show at Hill Air Force Base, there will be a small group of attendees keeping 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 — will be flown by Maj. Tyler Ellison, a career pilot who has special ties 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, Colo. He’s been flying with the Thunderbirds for the last year and a half and before that, he was aide-de-camp to the commander at the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va. He’s 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 in 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’s been involved in.

Both 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,” he said. “It’s something I never would have fathomed in a million years. 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.”

Since arriving at Hill on Thursday,  Ellison has been able to revisit old stomping grounds and see some familiar faces, despite a hectic schedule that included a practice demonstration on Friday and a “Hometown Hero” flight on Thursday where 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 Thursday.

Ellison said his ancestors were among the early settlers of Layton and even raised cattle on the land that is now Hill Air Force Base. He said where ever his career takes him, he will be inextricably linked to the area.

"And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that than this (air show),“ Ellison said.

Gates open for the show at 8 a.m. A pre-show starts at 9 a.m. with flying beginning at 10 a.m. The base’s South, West and Roy gates will all be open to the public. The South gate can be accessed from S.R. 193, the West gate is off Interstate 15 exit 335 and the Roy gate is off I-15 exit 338.

The Utah Transit Authority will provide a shuttle between the base and the Clearfield FrontRunner Station, 1250 S. State Street. The shuttle will cost $2.50.

For more information on the show, visit

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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