Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Levittown native Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, Director of Operations for the US Air Force Thunderbirds, about being a Thunderbird and what it means to be back home on Long Island performing at the Bethpage Air Show. Take a look at what he had to say:
Question – What made you want to become an Air Force pilot?
Walsh – Believe it or not it was actually seeing the movie Top Gun as a kid. I thought it was a super cool movie and it instantly sparked my interest in military aviation. My parents definitely thought I was crazy at first, but supported me all along the way.
Question – How competitive is it to land a job as an Air Force pilot?
Walsh – There are actually a couple of layers to becoming an Air Force pilot. you have to be an officer, which you can become through the Air Force Academy, ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), or OTS (Officer Training School). I went through the Air Force Academy because they receive the largest percentage of pilot training slots. Once you get a slot it becomes even more competitive to become an Air Force Pilot.
Question – What sets a candidate apart from others while seeking a pilot position?
Walsh – You don’t have to be an A+ student. They really look for well-rounded individuals in addition to education, like those who played sports and took part in volunteer work in their community.
Question – What is the best part about being a Thunderbird?
Walsh – The best part is all of the people you get to interact with. We meet people from all over the place – this week alone we head to Oklahoma City, then fly over the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, then we get to perform over Jones Beach. We are incredibly busy – on the road 220 days out of the year and meeting the full gamut of people from different walks of life all while putting smiles on their faces. We performed in over 70 shows just last year and are on track to do the same for 2017.
Question – What is the hardest part about being a Thunderbird?
Walsh – It’s hard to spend so much time away from home. I have a wife and two kids, so sometimes its difficult when we dedicate so much time to putting smiles on the faces of other people and not so much our families.
Question – What is your favorite maneuver to perform?
Walsh – I am a big fan of vertical rolls. We come in at roughly 600+mph with an 8-9 G-force pull straight up, rolling as many times as possible. It’s a huge thrill!
Question – Are there any misconceptions people have about being an Air Force pilot?
Walsh – A lot of people think that you need perfect vision, but that’s not true. As long as your vision is correctable to 20/20 you’re okay. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete with perfect vision and hearing. If you want to become a pilot, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I didn’t get into the Air Force Academy right away. I spent a year in college first and worked my way in. You definitely don’t need to be super human.
Question – Are you excited to perform for your hometown?
Walsh – Absolutely! Officers are on the team for two years and since we come to Jones Beach every other year, this is that one chance to do it. I have a lot of family coming – mother’s side, father’s side, my wife’s family – it’s a great feeling.
Question – What has been your favorite performance so far as a Thunderbird? Besides the upcoming Bethpage Air Show, of course!
Walsh – Growing up on Long Island made me into a beach guy, so I really like beach shows. Fort Lauderdale, Florida was a fun show, Huntington Beach, California was great, and I am really looking forward to heading overseas in July for a show in Fairford, England. We haven’t flown in an international show since 2011, so I am excited to head over there.
Thank you, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, for taking the time out to speak with us. We cannot wait to see you over Jones Beach Memorial Day Weekend at the Bethpage Air Show!