NEW WINDSOR—Major Joshua Boudreaux, left wingman for the Thunderbirds demonstration squadron, flew in to Stewart International Airport on Jan. 22 to give a taste of what to expect at the New York Airshow coming on Labor Day weekend.
An experienced combat pilot, Boudreau said the Thunderbirds and support personnel travel 220 days a year to “connect communities with their military, in particular, with the Air Force.”
County Executive Steven Neuhaus was on hand to give the impact the air show and Thunderbirds will generate for tourism. “These guys are the best jet team in the country. We are really excited about it. We take tourism seriously. [The air show] can bring tens of thousands of people to our county and our region.”
Boudreaux came to meet with media and do a site visit of the airport. Boudreaux surveyed the show site, checking the airfield runway, taxiways, and the apron where the planes are parked, that they are in a condition suitable for an F-16. He said Stewart “is in great condition.”
He noted the military stationed at Stewart. “It’s great when we get to go bases where they have military representation.”
Precision Flying Team
Thunderbird pilots fly fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets. The fighter jet is capable of air to air combat, as well as air to ground. Boudreaux says it’s the world’s greatest because it is combat proven. Each generation has added improved avionics, weapons, and weapons systems.
The team flies in frighteningly close formation. Boudreaux’s wing tip hovers about three feet from the lead pilot’s tail during the demonstration. “We actually overlap.” Boudreaux said the maneuvers “take a lot of practice, a lot of dedication, and precision.”
The fight control computer system—there are three backups—stabilizes the plane aerodynamically. During the show, the plane will fly about 700 miles per hour. Boudreaux says the plane is able to fly at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, but would “bust every window in a two-mile radius” if they did that.
The plane’s Pratt & Whitney single engine generates over 30,000 lbs of thrust. The plane itself weighs only 26,000 lbs. With that thrust, the pilot can take the plane to the end of the runway, and, in less than two miles, put the jet on its tail, accelerate, and go straight up. Boudreaux said his aircraft can climb to 16,000 feet in less than 15 seconds. Air show visitors will see this during the show.
They also fly low. At the show, the planes will fly about 150 feet off the ground at 720 mph.
The Thunderbirds entertain crowds for 45 minutes but Boudreaux says it takes eight hours of prep work to make it happen.
Boudreaux credits a well-trained and experienced ground crew to keep the jets in flying shape. A C-17 carries 24,000 tons of equipment and 60 people to shows. The Thunderbirds travel with 120 personnel to each show site. “They are really the stars of the show if you ask me.”
“What keeps me coming back and waking up every morning with a smile on my face and a little bit of spring in my step is the people I get to work with. People are excited to come to work, they have a passion for what they do. More importantly, they have a desire to serve their country and the people they have vowed to defend all the freedoms that we enjoy.”
Boudreaux oversees all airlift and refueling missions required to support more than 1300 flying hours, 130 mid-air refueling, 1400 tons of cargo and the weekly movement of more than 50 personnel across the U.S.
Although he was too young to fly when Desert Storm happened, Boudreaux is aware how the short war changed the Air Force forever, which gained global reach and air superiority with the ability to maintain it. The Air Force can now “fly, fight, and win in air, space, and cyberspace.”
Dedicated to Flight
This left wing pilot loves flying a fast plane which he calls the best in the world. “The cool thing about the Thunderbirds is you get to fly this jet, which is an incredible aircraft, to its limits, the absolute edge of the envelope,” Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux never forgot his first flying lesson with the family eye, nose, and throat doctor when he was nine. “I was hooked after that.”
Air shows helped to nurture that love of flying. “What brought me to air shows as a little kid was seeing someone do amazing things I would not have thought possible.”
Boudreaux has flown the F-16s for seven years. He earned his pilot’s license at 16, and was accepted at the Air Force Academy. Following more pilot training, another eight weeks fighter training, and nine months in the F-16.
The pilots all came from active combat duty. Boudreaux arrived from duty in Afghanistan, was in Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn, and other locations. “We are a profession of arms. The training that we receive in the military is the best in the world.”
He said the Thunderbirds is not meant to be long-term for the pilots. “We are not developing professional airshow pilots. We are trying to represent the men and women that are out there.” One half of the team is replaced every two years by combat pilots. Boudreaux arrived directly from flying support sorties in Afghanistan.
Boudreaux has three sons who he says are eager to fly with him. “They have not flown with me yet, but they will in the next assignment.”
From March through November, the “Ambassadors in Blue” demonstrate what Boudreaux describes as the “power, the precision, and professionalism of your United States Air Force.”
The Thunderbirds represent the 22,000 airmen on active duty as well as those on reserve. “The Thunderbirds’ purpose is to show what the military can do.”
He is expecting a big crowd on the Labor Day weekend and hopes visitors will get an appreciation for aviation. Boudreaux says people come to air shows for different reasons. “Some people come to see the airplanes. Some come to be awed. Some are amazed that airplanes even fly.”
The Thunderbirds will perform three times at the New York Airshow on Labor Day weekend—Saturday and Sunday shows, and a practice on Friday.
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