First mom, female reserve officer to fly with Air Force Thunderbirds

To be the first mom and only the third woman to fly with the Air Force Thunderbirds is an amazing feat. For Major Caroline Jensen, from River Falls, it’s a dream come. It has been 24 years since she was first amazed by the aerobatics of famed squadron of the U.S. Air Force.

“For me, this is a dream come true,” the 37-year-old Air Force Major told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. “Who wouldn’t want to perform at Oshkosh? It’s kind of like playing at Carnegie Hall.”

According to Fox News, Jensen is the daughter of a Vietnam War Marine helicopter pilot. She attended and graduated from the Air Force Academy, after which she served 10 years on active duty. She has spent the last five years as a reservist, first as a T-38 instructor, next as an assistant flight commander for Air Force Reserve Command’s 340th Flying training group and now as a member of the elite Thunderbird unit.

One reason there are so few female Thunderbird demonstration pilots is because only 7% of America’s fighter pilot forces are female, Jensen said.

“To be on the team, you have to be at the right place in your career with the right set of skills, a family who’s supportive and the desire to do it. So there’s a lot of things that have to happen for any pilot who wants to be part of the team,” she said.

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported that Jensen flies the No. 3 plane on the right side of the diamond, sometimes as close as 18 inches from the lead plane at speeds up to 450 knots. In some of the maneuvers, Thunderbird pilots feel as much as 9 Gs on their bodies and fly as low as 300 feet from the ground.

“It’s all very controlled. I know exactly what (the lead pilot) is going to do, he knows exactly what we’re going to do. There are commands we go through and we’ve literally done them hundreds of times,” she said. “It’s very deliberate, very rehearsed and very safe.”

This is the first visit by the full Air Force Thunderbird flight demonstration team to EAA AirVenture and because the aerobatic box, the air space above the grounds, is bigger, convention organizers are moving spectators 150 feet back from the normal flight line. Residents and businesses inside the aerobatic box must leave for a few hours while the team performs, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

When Jensen completes the season with the Thunderbirds, she’s off to Washington, D.C. to be a congressional liaison for the Air Force.


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