Michelle “Mace” Curran has led an impressive career as a Fighter Pilot during her 13 years in the United States Air Force. From 2019-2021, she flew as the only female pilot for the Air Force Thunderbirds and performed for millions across the country and internationally. Before joining the Thunderbirds, Michelle was a combat-proven fighter pilot completing missions across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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  • What inspired Michelle to join the Air Force?
    • “I had a grandpa who was a lieutenant in the Navy. I went through his World War II trunk and tried on uniforms and looked at postcards. He got to travel all over the world. I grew up in a small town and I wanted to travel. I’ve always been drawn to flying. I hadn’t done a lot of flying aside from commercially, but I loved it, so the Air Force seemed like a natural fit. I was also honestly looking for a scholarship for college, so the three things kind of came together.”
  • “C3” Comm – That’s clear, concise, and correct communication. How that plays a role as a pilot and how we can use that as leaders outside of the airplane.
    • For the solo opposing passes, each pilot is traveling at 500mph, that’s 1000mph of closure toward each other. The timing that makes sure the aircraft safely pass each other at the center point directly in front of the crowd is all done through radio calls. Every call must communicate clearly, concisely, and correctly.
  • There are a lot of benefits to having a beginner’s mindset.
  • What does Michelle say to young girls?
    • “You have to exceed people’s expectations. People are going to set expectations for you based on where you grew up, the family you came from, your gender — there are all different factors that go into that. Constantly do your best, strive for perfection, exceed those expectations, and really don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t set boundaries that don’t really exist, that you just place there for yourself. You’ll be surprised at all of the things you can do if you just keep pushing.”
  • “We wield a lot of power with our words.” Let’s plant a seed of inspiration. As leaders, our words carry a lot of weight. Let’s use that to help other people strive for more and potentially accomplish more than they ever thought they were capable of. What an awesome use of our power.
  • The Debrief – It’s the sacred environment of flying. Your rank doesn’t matter. It’s all about focusing on what happened and how we can get better. I think our companies would be better if we had consistent debriefs after a big moment to ensure we are learning from our mistakes and getting better…
  • The person you are today is likely much different than the one you were ten years ago. The person you will be ten years from now will probably be just as different compared to who you are now.
  • Michelle initially didn’t feel capable as a fighter pilot. But she kept showing up. It’s important that we have the courage to keep going even when we don’t feel ready.
  • Being a female fighter pilot, Mace was in a male-dominated career… She was often the only woman in my unit and roughly 3% of fighter pilots in the Air Force are female even thirty years after combat airframes were opened to women,
  • Leaders and followers – A young flight lead could be in command of a general whose role is to be the wingman…
  • Mace has written a children’s book that just came out called Upside Down Dreams. It is a story written for girls with big dreams looking for a real-world heroine.
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Time Stamps


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