U.S. Air Force F-16 And F-35 Demo Teams Announce Their New Pilots

Demo Pilots
The new F-16 Viper Demo Pilot Capt. Taylor “FEMA” Hiester (left) and F-35 Demo Pilot Capt. Melanie “MACH” Kluesner (right). (U.S. Air Force photos)

Capt. Taylor “FEMA” Hiester and Capt. Melanie “MACH” Kluesner became the new certified pilots of the F-16 Viper Demo Team and F-35A Lightning II Demo Team, respectively, during the Air Combat Command Heritage Flight Training Course.

The U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command certified on March 1, 2024, the new pilots and commanders of the F-16 Viper Demo Team and the F-35A Lightning II Demo Team, during the Air Combat Command Heritage Flight Training Course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Capt. Taylor “FEMA” Hiester will take the place of Capt. Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler after her two years assignment with the Viper Demo Team, while Capt. Melanie “MACH” Kluesner will take the place of Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe after she completed four years with the F-35 Demo Team.

Capt. Hiester is an instructor pilot assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. He began his career as an active duty Total Force Integration pilot assigned to the Air National Guard’s 175th Fighter Squadron at Sioux Falls Air National Guard Base, South Dakota. Before moving to Shaw, Hiester also served in the A-29 Light Attack program and as a Combat Aviation Advisor.

“I always thought that the F-16 was the perfect fighter jet, it’s got smooth lines and it’s mostly engine and it’s got this great big bubble canopy that puts nothing between you and where you’re going”, says Capt. Hiester in his video presentation on the Viper Demo team social media accounts. “As a kid I always imagined that flying would be like having the superpower of wearing a jetpack that could take you anywhere, and I’m thrilled to report that’s true. We found a way to merge man with machine and this year our team will travel the world and show you why the F-16 still keeps the enemy awake at night.”

Capt. Kluesner is a pilot assigned to the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. She comes from a military family and was inspired at young age by her parents, both U.S. Air Force pilots, to become a fighter pilot and is now going to follow her father’s footsteps as he was a demo pilot himself.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Melanie “MACH” Kluesner, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team pilot and commander, taxis off the runway after being certified on her aerial demonstration by the 388th Wing commander at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 22, 2024. Upon wing commander certification, the F-35 Demo Team pilot is required to complete the Air Combat Command Heritage Flight Training Course. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaitlyn Ergish)

“When I was growing up, I really appreciated my parents, family members and friends who believed in me and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a fighter pilot,” said Kluesner. “My dad was the Pacific Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon demo pilot in the 1980’s and my mom was the first graduating class of women from the Air Force Academy. She graduated pilot training as fighter qualified, but at that time women weren’t allowed to fly fighters. My parents are a huge inspiration to me and have some incredible stories from their careers.”

After graduating from the University of Southern California, Capt. Kluesner commissioned into the U.S. Air Force in 2014. She is a veteran combat fighter pilot with more than 1,000 hours of experience in a variety of aircraft, including the T-6A Texan II, T-38 Talon, F-16 Fighting Falcon and, notably, both F-35B and F-35A Lightning II. “It was a long road to get to where I am and there is nothing more rewarding than doing a job you love for something that’s bigger than yourself,” said Kluesner. “Being the demo pilot means spreading that message to the next generation and I’m really excited for the airshow season to begin.”

In fact, not only are the F-16 and F-35A Demo Team commanders responsible for their traveling teams of maintainers and supporting personnel, but they also reenforce the mission of the team across the globe each year by showcasing the combat capabilities of the F-16 and F-35 and their unique military experiences to recruit, retain and inspire thousands of viewers at each airshow. The demo teams inspire airshow audiences and aviation enthusiasts of all ages through flight demonstrations and personal appearances that showcase the Air Force experience and the flight capabilities of their aircraft, serving as a vital recruiting asset for the service.

“I think it’s really important for people to realize that if you want to be a fighter pilot or serve in the military, it doesn’t matter what you look like or that you fit the specific mold,” Capt. Kluesner explained. “What does matter is being willing to stay disciplined, work hard, become a team player and care about serving your country. I’m humbled to be in this position and hope everyone who watches the demonstration is inspired to dream big just like I was when I was a little kid.”

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.