U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Honor Local Hero & Cancer Survivor With Unforgettable Experience

by Matthew Memrick
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One local hero and cancer survivor soared to new heights as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds honored him with an unforgettable experience.

Danny Heinsohn is an author, a coach, and a brain cancer survivor. He’s also an honorary Thunderbird pilot now.

Thunderbird #8 Major pilot Jason Markzon took the man on a ride in the clouds.  

This week, the STIHL National Championship Air Races at the Reno Airport through Sunday.

Cancer Survivor’s Flight 

After the flight, Heinsohn compared the short, 45-minute trip to “an out-of-body experience.”

“It’s the best roller coaster ride you’ll ever have in your life,” pilot Markzon told CBS.

In an unintended coincidence, Friday’s Thunderbird flight program was called “Hometown Hero.” The elite flying group chose Heinsohn for his community efforts. With the honor, came the sky ride.

“Our Hometown Hero today, Danny was just an absolute incredible honor to fly him,” Markzon said. “He has a great cause, he comes from a great background, born here in Reno, and he did a great job on the flight

The pilot said the hero “crushed the whole thing he did loops and rolls” and “pulled 9G’s.”  

For the Reno native who grew up watching the Thunderbirds, it was a “dream come true.”

Hometown Hero Flies High

The Reno, Nev. resident also started My Hometown Heroes for young cancer survivors. The charity created a national scholarship fund.

To Heinsohn, the scholarship is his purpose and motivator to “keep going.”

The man joins of the list of law enforcement, teachers, nurses, and more to complete the air trip.

In June, Markzon flew with a Maryland man who jumped in a river to save a child. The child was in a wreck and thrown from the car over the side of a bridge.

The Maryland governor gave Jonathan Bauer a special citation. The Ocean City Fire Department also rewarded Bauer and his family (wife Wendi and daughter Ava) with honorary membership.

Reno Man An Inspiration

On his website, DannyHeinsohn.com, the cancer survivor, talks about his life and how he turned his “greatest setback” into an opportunity.

After completing his bachelor’s of science degree in electrical engineering, Heinsohn got devastating news. 

A brain cancer diagnosis led to 15 months of chemotherapy, craniotomies, and complications.

The man recovered only to suffer from depression and a lost sense of identity. Physical complications resulted in having to relearn motor skills. He also had to learn to walk, talk and tie his shoes.

After those struggles, he said he was broke and socially impaired during an economic recession. 

But with years of reinvention, Heinsohn said he climbed back and he’s an honorary Thunderbird pilot.

Over the years, he’s built up a sales and public-speaking career. He has also done business with pro baseball, football, and hockey teams.

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