Catching up with the Thunderbird pilots before their Daytona 500 flyover

U.S. Air Force Major Caroline Jensen, right wing for the Thunderbirds
Photo:  Rosalie Thompson/Shirts and Scuffs
U.S. Air Force Major Caroline Jensen and her pilot husband, like many couples across America, travel for work and juggle busy schedules as the parents of a small child. But Major Jensen’s job might be just a little more exciting and a lot more demanding than most—Jensen flies right wing with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and she will be part of the flyover Sunday during the National Anthem at the Daytona 500.

Standing on the tarmac Friday afternoon at the Daytona Beach Airport, I joined several reporters and photographers in town to cover Speedweeks and the Daytona 500, as we waited for the elite F-16 pilots to land and taxi to a spot in front of us.
Having lived close to flight lines on military bases as the wife of an Air Force officer, the sight of the Thunderbirds was not new to me. By the same token, the thrill of watching the precision team has not lessened over the years. Getting to meet the pilots was a new experience and a highlight of my Speedweeks.

U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Officer Maj. Kristin Haley said my interview would be the first one Maj. Jensen, who first flew with the squad in November, had conducted as a Thunderbird pilot.  The pilot of the No. 3 jet handled the interview with the same confidence it takes to do her job.
The Air Force Academy graduate served as a T-38 instructor pilot and assistant flight commander for Air Force Reserve Command’s 340th Flying Training Group, 80th Flying Training Wing, at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. She has logged more than 2,500 flight hours as an Air Force pilot, with 200 hours of combat experience in the F16C/D.

The jets practiced Friday and families pulled over near the airport to enjoy the show on a hot windy Daytona Beach day.  A few families stood outside the airport fence to get a little closer and catch a glimpse of the pilots. Race fans Sunday, however, will get to experience the real show from the Daytona Speedway.
This is the third time the flying team, officially known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, will perform the flyover for the Daytona 500. Even though I have seen them all from the speedway, Sunday’s flyover for me will now be a little more special. 

Catching up with the Thunderbird pilots before their Daytona 500 flyover Catching up with the Thunderbird pilots before their Daytona 500 flyover Reviewed by Rosalie Thompson on Saturday, February 25, 2012 Rating: 5