First mother to fly with Air Force Thunderbirds readies for weekend show

For Caroline Jansen, becoming the first mother to fly with the Air Force Thunderbirds is a “dream come true,” more than two decades after seeing the flight demonstration team as a child.

Jensen, of River Falls, Wis., is the first female reserve officer to fly with the Thunderbirds, the aerobatic squadron of the U.S. Air Force. The daughter of a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Jensen has spent the last five years as a reservist and is now readying to perform with the elite unit this weekend in Oshkosh, the Journal Sentinel reports.

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

Jensen, 37, first saw the Thunderbirds perform at age 13 before taking her first flight two years later, aboard a single-engine Cessna 172. Her next flights were to and from the Air Force Academy for swim camp, while her fourth was to basic training after being accepted as a cadet.

After finishing this season flying the No. 3 plane, sometimes as close as 18 inches away from her counterparts flying at speeds in excess of 500 mph, Jensen will embark on the next chapter of her career: working as a congressional liaison for the Air Force.

“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,” she told the newspaper. “So there’s a lot of things that have to happen for any pilot who wants to be part of the team.”