Heard graduated from Kempner in 1993
By Joe Southern
When Jason Heard graduated from Kempner High School in 1993, he was just 16 and left for college in Denton at the Texas Academy of Math and Science.
The 40-year-old made a triumphant return Oct. 19, leading the vaunted United States Air Force Thunderbirds as they flew in for the Wings Over Houston air show at Ellington Airport.
“It felt very special flying back into Houston,” Lt. Col. Heard said. “As we flew in we flew past Austin where I want to college and past College Station where my little brother went and then flew into the edge of town near Sugar Land where I went to high school and it felt great to be back in Texas and back in Houston and I can’t wait to see friends and family and just show off what the United States Air Force does here with the United States Thunderbirds.”
This isn’t the first time Heard has led the Thunderbirds over Houston.
“I’ve been a Thunderbird since November of last year and I became the commander in January and since I’ve taken command we’ve been to 37 different cities putting on air shows. We’ve been to the Super Bowl here in Houston earlier this year, which was a real pleasure to get to come to my hometown and fly over such an important sporting event for America,” he said. “We’ve flown over the Daytona 500, so a lot of great things this year out representing the Air Force.”
At Kempner, Heard was active in extracurricular activities.
“I played football and I swam and I did drama a little bit. I did plays because there was a girl I was interested in at the time. I did debate, too,” he said.
After attending the Texas Academy of Math and Science in Denton, he went on to the University of North Texas. He later transferred to the University of Texas and graduated from there in 1999.
“I was finishing college and I had a great job lined up as a petroleum engineer and I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and I wanted to serve my country, so I really got into the Yellow Pages, believe it or not, and I called up a recruiter and I said ‘I’m about to graduate and would the Air Force take me?’ and they were happy to take me, which was great,” he said. “I was only going to serve for a couple years but I was having so much fun and hanging out with great people and I’m still serving.”
Going from the recruitment office to being commander/leader of the Thunderbirds didn’t happen over night.
“I entered the Air Force in 1999,” he said. “Initially I was a navigator, so I started out in the back seat of an airplane. I was a weapons system officer in an F-15E and I went to pilot training here in Laughlin in Texas and then went to pilot training and flew the F-15E.”
He is currently stationed with the Thunderbirds in Nevada.
“I have quite a bit of combat experience. I have about 800 hours in Iraq, Afghanistan multiple times, Syria and Libya,” he said.
The tall, lanky Texan has experience flying a number of aircraft for the Air Force.
“I’ve flown the T-34, T-6, T-38, F-15E and the F-16. I love them all. I’ve been to combat in the F-15E and I love the systems, I love the capability of having a weapons systems operator flying with me and it’s just a great airplane. I’m very partial to that airplane in combat. This F-16 is absolutely perfect for its mission,” he said, pointing to his plane. “It is a beautiful airplane, has all the thrust-to-weight ratio that a fighter pilot enjoys. It’s capable of everything a fighter should be capable of and I love flying it.”
He said he is very confident while flying the incredible stunts the team performs at air shows.
“We’re very careful as fighter pilots. We make sure every risk we take is very calculated and while it seems pretty nerve-racking, I have complete trust in the guys that I fly with,” he said. “We’ve had plenty of practice and we know what we’re doing, so there’ll be no unnecessary risks. Our first priority is making sure that we take care of each other and take care of the crowd. Safety is our number one priority.”
Heard said the hardest stunt for him to learn was the high bomb burst.
“In the high bomb burst we go up as a four-ships and we break into four different directions. We go out three miles in every direction and we go straight down at the earth and then we come back and very close to the earth we cross altogether,” he said.
“My favorite is the delta roll and that’s when we fly in this diamond all day long to highlight the precision of the United States Air Force and in the end we bring the solos onboard and we fly in a six-ship formation and we do a simple six-ship roll, but to me that’s the most beautiful and it sort of showcases that spirit of teamwork that we have within a team.”
He said there is a greater importance to the air show performances than simply entertaining the audience.
“Our Air Force is important to our national security and it’s important that the taxpayers understand what that Air Force is capable of. It’s also important that we recruit and retain and inspire that next generation of airmen,” he said. “Really, what makes our Air Force the best in the world is not these amazing machines, although they are amazing, it’s the incredible airmen that we have both maintaining them, flying them and all the supporting airmen that we have making sure this Air Force works.
“And we need to make sure we go out and reach that next generation, get them interested in the Air Force and that’s exactly what these air shows let us do. We go out and talk to those children, meet those children and let them know there’s an exciting career in the Air Force for them should they choose that,” he said.
The air shows worked their magic on him when he was a child.
“Yeah, I went to air shows when I was a kid, several times, and loved it. I think I got a spark in my mind for what is possible,” he said.
Heard has some words of encouragement and advice for anyone wanting to join the U.S. military, especially the Air Force.
“I tell kids who are interested in the Air Force Academy to work hard, first off, so wherever you are or whatever you’re doing, whatever class you’re taking, whatever extracurricular you’re working on, do your best. Just do your best every day. Everybody’s going to have setbacks, so if you are not succeeding in the way that you want today, set new goals and objectives and try to do better tomorrow and then just dream big. Don’t take no for an answer,” he said.
“I’d tell a kid I’ve never regretted a moment of my decision to serve the United States and to serve specifically in the United States Air Force,” he added. “I love what I do, I love the people that I work with every single day and I wake up fulfilled that I’m serving something bigger than myself and no amount of money can provide that sense of accomplishment and well being.”
Heard and the Thunderbirds will be performing Oct. 21-22 in Wings Over Houston at Ellington Airport. For more information, visit www.wingsoverhouston.com.