ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. --
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Austin Daniel normally works as a crew chief for high performance fighters, but this year he was seen high over the skies of Atlantic City during the 2014 "Thunder Over the Boardwalk" Air Show as a demonstration pilot.
Since Daniel was 5 years old, he knew he wanted to fly.
"For his 5th birthday, all he wanted was for me to take him up," said Austin's father, Jeff Daniel, a former Air Force T-37 instructor pilot. "Once he was up in the air, he was hooked."
The junior Daniel began his flying career at 14, and at 16 had a base tour here at the 177th Fighter Wing.
"That tour was a huge influence," said Daniel. "I got to talk to a fighter pilot, and I asked him, what do I need to accomplish to do what you do? He told me to enlist in the Air National Guard, and that's exactly what I did when I graduated high school."
In 2009 Daniel graduated from Air Force Basic Training as well a technical training to become an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief. At the same time, he had already gotten his commercial pilot's license and began flying with the Raiders Demonstration Team, based out of Lumberton, N.J.
"The Guard is the best opportunity in the military," said Daniel. "To have so many options, full-time, part-time, it's so flexible. I was able to work as a crew chief part-time, finish my college degree in Aviation Flight Technology, and fly!"
As a member of the Raiders, Daniel relies on skills he learned in the Air National Guard.
"The Air National Guard was my first experience working in such a large organization, and the skills I learned as a crew chief, like aircraft systems management, have helped me out immensely as a pilot, and also as a team member," said Daniel. "Being a crew chief and flying as a demonstration pilot actually have a lot in common; there is a huge amount of trust and comradery in both."
At 23 years old, Daniels has accumulated an amazing 2,000 flight hours. While flying with the Raiders Demonstration Team as a solo pilot, he flies the Yak-52, a hardy Russian-made training aircraft.
"It's a great aircraft, very fuel efficient and great in formation flying with basic aerobatic maneuvers," said Daniel.
Daniel recently achieved one of his goals: being hired by a regional airline as a pilot.
"He started flying with the Yak-52, a very complex aircraft," said his father Jeff. "It was a unique way to learn how to fly, and it translated well with flying crop dusters and now the airlines."
"Flying in shows like Thunder Over the Boardwalk here in Atlantic City is exciting," said Daniel. "I used to be that kid, looking up at planes and getting inspired, and it's an honor that it's me up there inspiring kids today. Flying the AC air show feels great, it's real 'seat of the pants,' and it's a beautiful view!"
For the future, Daniel is still looking to the sky, hoping to one day fly fighters for the Air National Guard.