‘Fantastic, phenomenal ride:’ Seminole County teacher flies with US Air Force Thunderbirds

Clatyon Donnan named district’s teacher of the year

SANFORD, Fla. – A Seminole County teacher strapped in for the ride of his life.

Clayton Donnan was invited to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds selected him as their “Hometown Hero,” which is a program that honors deserving local people.

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“It was unspeakable,” Donnan said. “I wasn’t nervous. It was just a fantastic, phenomenal ride.”

Donnan is the Seminole County teacher of the year. He has taught at Crooms Academy for the last 18 years. He teaches games and simulation design, 3D modeling and animation, as well as steel band. He also runs CroomsCon, which is a social gaming event that draws in hundreds of participants and has raised more than $75,000 to benefit the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.

Donnan spent Friday far from the classroom. He suited up and rode in the backseat of a F-16. At times during his flight, he hit up to 9 g-forces and looped in the sky.

Seminole County's Teacher of the Year, Clatyon Donnan, flew with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Oct. 15. (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

He said this was a hands-on lesson he always dreamed of.

“Obviously we make games, I play games. The idea of flying a real plane is something that I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid and I was flying PC simulators when I was 10 years old,” he said.

The Thunderbirds are in town for the Orlando Air & Space Show happening this weekend at the Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Maj. Ryan Yingling was the pilot during the flight. He said this was the least they could do for Donnan, who does so much for his students.

“Recognizing his service and his excellence, which are things that we strive for, that’s the best we could ask for,” Yingling said.

Donnan also got the chance to take control of the plane.

“Once he got the handle of it, we were cloud chasing and he wanted to pull G’s so he did great,” Yingling said. “The size of the smile on his face was as big as Florida.”

Donnan’s family was on the tarmac watching every moment. His wife, Jennifer Donnan, said she was nervous at first.

“But once he was up there and he was with the pilot ... I really felt more at ease than I thought I would,” Jennifer Donnan said. “This is just amazing. And he’s so lucky to be able to do this.”

Brandon Hanshaw, the principal of Crooms Academy, said Donnan deserves this opportunity and the recognition. He adds his passion for teaching lifts his students to new heights.

“He’s put in so many hours and so much time individually with students and their families. Now to have this reward, unbelievable,” Hanshaw said.

Teacher of the Year honored by USAF Thunderbirds as "Hometown Hero"

Click here for more information on the Orlando Air & Space Show.

About the Author:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!