From the Monterey County Herald: California International Airshow: Female Thunderbird ready to hit the skies
What did your mom do today?
Maj. Caroline Jensen, the married mother of a 4-year-old son, flew her
Block 52 F-16 Fighting Falcon jet from Las Vegas to Salinas in 45
minutes on Thursday at an average speed of about 480 mph.
The Iraq combat veteran is one of eight U.S. Air Force fighter
pilots who will fly with the Thunderbirds on Saturday and Sunday at the
California International Airshow in Salinas, performing maneuvers in
four- and six-plane formations in which the wings of each jet are
separated by about 2½ feet.
"We've had a lot of other moms with the team in support roles,
but I'm actually the first mom to fly for the Thunderbirds," said
Jensen, 37, who became a commissioned officer 14 years ago on her
wedding day. "I get a lot of attention for that reason, but to me it's
not a big deal because of all the women who came before me and cleared
the way for me to become a fighter pilot, not a female fighter pilot."
Jensen is Thunderbird No. 3, meaning she flies at the right wing
of the lead aircraft in the team's diamond formation. The Thunderbirds
also perform in a six-jet delta formation.
"It's pretty amazing to be part of this team and represent the
400,000 men and women who are working hard every day as members of the
United States Air Force," said Jensen, a Wisconsin native. "What we do
at an air show brings the precision and the pride that we deploy during
combat missions to a visible presentation that is entertaining for the
Jensen is the daughter of a Vietnam
veteran and the granddaughter of a World War II veteran, a heritage that
instilled in her a strong sense of patriotism, she said. She set a goal
to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot at age 13
after watching the Thunderbirds perform at an air show.
"I was one of 36 pilots who applied to become one of the
Thunderbirds in a year when there were two openings for a pilot and one
for a narrator position (a pilot who flies an advance plane)," she said.
Those three dozen applicants were narrowed to 12 who accompanied
the Thunderbirds to an air show as observers, interacting and
interviewing with team members. She was one of six finalists chosen to
attend another air show with the team, and was one of three to become
"I found out unofficially in May of last year," she said. "It
was a special day because I happened to be on vacation with my family at
the time, and it was the day before my anniversary."
Jensen, who flew combat missions in Iraq for six months in 2007
and 2008, said the most impressive thing about the F-16 Fighting Falcon
is its ability to engage the afterburners and accelerate while flying
F-16 pilots routinely endure gravitational pull of up to 7Gs.
"I guess if seven people your size were sitting on your lap,
that's how it feels to pull 7Gs," she said. "I'm actually pretty used to
it. We maintain a high level of fitness, nutrition and hydration,
because when you least expect it would be when the Gs would really
Tickets for the air show can be purchased in advance until 5
p.m. Friday by calling 1-888-845-SHOW, or at Salinas Municipal Airport,
home of the airshow.