‘Master musicians who want to serve’: Meet the Air Force’s ‘Flight One’ band



If you want to play with the Air Force Band of Flight “Flight One” musical ensemble, you’d better know your stuff.

Flight One is an ensemble within the storied Band of Flight, which is made up of uniformed Air Force musicians who play drums, bass, keys and screaming electric guitar, not tubas, trumpets or other brass instruments.

You might find them entertaining crowds at the Dayton Air Show on a summer morning or a Friday evening community party at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Club.

Flight One is ready to play just about anything, from Bruno Mars to Taylor Swift, or the Eagles to the Black Crows, and nearly everything in between.

“We don’t really have a niche,” said Technical Sergeant Ainsley DeWitt, the band’s singer and the non-commissioned officer in charge. “We do our best to kind of customize our product to our audience.”

The Band of Flight itself has roots that stretch back to World War II. It has entertained politicians, service members and families around the world in the decades since.

Flight One extends the group’s reach. When it performs for students, for example, the musicians may play more modern music. Other audiences may get country or classic rock.

Chief Master Sgt. David McCormick, the enlisted leader in charge, sums up the band’s mission in three words — “honor, inspire, connect.”

“We’re looking for an extremely versatile musician who is a master of his or her craft, who is willing to then use that as a tool for the communication goals of the United States Air Force,” McCormick said. “A master musician who wants to serve is exactly what we need.”

There are fewer Air Force musicians than when McCormick started 22 years ago, but their goal has not changed. The Band of Flight, stationed at Wright-Patterson, plays more than 250 performances annually.

“We keep very busy,” McCormick said.

For a musician, this is a great gig, said guitarist Senior Airman Christopher Arellano. Health insurance is provided, as well as a steady paycheck. And members don’t need to cover gas for the band’s transportation.

“You get medical coverage for your family, which is really hard to find if you’re a freelance musician,” Arellano said. “To be able to do that and also serve your country at the same time — it made absolute sense for me and my family.”

Arellano started on saxophone as a child, but he could be seen playing a Heritage semi-hollow electric guitar at a recent rehearsal at Wright-Patterson, ripping through Christmas carols and blues standards.

A Gibson Les Paul, Fender Telecaster and other classic electric guitars sat on a nearby stand. But Arellano doesn’t own these beautiful instruments.

“All of this is government-issued equipment,” he said. “They (the government) will buy you equipment to use whether you’re an audio engineer, drummer, a singer. They provide microphones, cables, all of this.”

Arellano is about to change station, so some of the gear will travel with him to his next assignment.

“But once you retire, you sort of hand everything back,” he said with a smile.

Team members do more than play cool instruments. They rehearse individually and together, plan tours, and handle finances and myriad administrative tasks.



They also deploy just as ordinary Airmen do, said Technical Sergeant Andrew Clemenson, the group’s drummer.

“We are blessed that get to work with a consistent group of people,” Clemenson said.

Current members have played together for about six months.

Technical Sergeant Shawn Hanlon, who plays keyboards, was acting as music director as Flight One recently prepared for a holiday show. He worked with DeWitt to select tunes, arranging scripting and choreography and much more.

Musicians are expected to show up at band rehearsals knowing the material.

“I send out charts. I send out recordings,” Hanlon said. “I ask that people do a little bit of prep and come prepared so we can put it all together as a group.”

Though he doesn’t play an instrument, Airman 1st Class Steven Chilson, the band’s audio engineer, auditioned like any other member. He mixed sound and solved real-time problems under watchful eyes to win the gig.

“They had me take like a written test, a couple of practicals, mixing the band live and in the studio, doing some trouble-shooting,” Chilson said.

The band is planning an audition next spring, Hanlon said. He thought he might be a part of it.

“Flexibility, versatility is a big one,” he said when asked what the band expects of those auditioning. “Not just kind of being a super-specialist in one area. We need people who can play pop music and rock music. (They need to play) Jazz music for cocktail gigs and things like that.”

If you’re a young musician wondering if you can handle this gig, Hanlon has a bit of advice.

“Do a lot of listening and practicing. Practice those scales,” he said.

Air Force Band of Flight, Flight One

Master Sergeant Anthony “Mike” Schmaus, bass guitar

Technical Sergeant Ainsley DeWitt, vocals, noncommissioned officer in charge

Technical Sergeant Andrew Clemenson, drums

Technical Sergeant Shawn Hanlon, keyboards

Senior Airman Christopher Arellano, guitar

Airman 1st Class Steven Chilson, audio engineer

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