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Meet three of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilots

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The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly high above the nation most of the year. 
 
Behind the impressive maneuvers are six military fighter pilots. 
 
To apply for the position on the squadron, each pilot is required to have a minimum of 750 flight hours in a jet fighter. 
 
Each pilot makes the diamonds, rolls, and loops look graceful. 
 
Flying the No. 2 jet, Maj. Ryan Bodenheimer. Bodenheimer is from Colorado Springs, went to Pine Creek High
 
School and graduated from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. 
 
"There's videos of me as a young boy, probably 3 or 4 flying a little Thunderbird around," Bodenheimer said. 
 
He joined the Air Force 10 years ago, flew combat in Afghanistan for seven months in the F-15E and is now in his second year with the Thunderbirds squadron. 
 
"The Thunderbirds sparked something in me at a very young age, and it wasn't necessarily to join the Air Force it was more ask better questions and learn how people do amazing things," Bodenheimer said. 
 
In the No. 4 jet, the slot pilot, Maj. Nick Krajicek. 
 
"I can see everybody, so I've got the best seat in the house," Krajicek said. 
 
Krajicek started his military career in the Army, flying Blackhawk helicopters as a medevac pilot and then joined the Air Force in 2004. 
 
"I joined the Air Force because I wanted to be apart of this amazing team that gets to help defend our way of life, defend our freedoms every day," Krajicek said. 
 
Flying the most upside down maneuvers in the Thunderbirds hours long show, and carrying the upside down No. 5 on his uniform and his jet is Maj. Alex Turner. 
 
"I usually look down and tell them it looks right to me until that joke runs out," Turner said.
 
Turner grew up in a military family and saw the Thunderbirds perform when he was younger. 
 
"There's a picture of me, 5 or 6 years old up against the snow fence with the Thunderbirds up against my shoulder," Turner said.
 
The upside down 5 on his jet and uniform is a 30-year-old tradition in the Thunderbirds squadron. 
 
"As just a joke, the crew chiefs flipped the 5 over and put the sticker on there and the pilot came out and laughed and kind of chuckled and said 'we're leaving it' and forever more this is how we're rolling," Turner said. 
 
The demands of the Thunderbirds team keep the pilots working hard. 
 
"It is very physically demanding to fly these F-16s," Krajicek said. 
 
As the hour-long shows at high speeds aren't easy on the body and require total concentration. 
 
"We're human, and there are times when our focus starts to slip, and what we do at that point is we try to regain it," Bodenheimer said. 
 
For Bodenheimer concentration comes not only from his years of training in the Air Force but also the pressure from the crowd. 
 
"It's definitely training. I think it's having the ability to want to present the crowd with the absolute best experience
possible," Bodenheimer said. 
 
For Krajicek, concentration comes from flying 3 feet away from three other F-16's traveling at hundreds of miles per hour that helps him focus. 
 
"That position in and of itself lends me to have to keep my concentration and keep me on my toes," Krajicek said. 
 
The Thunderbirds have flown the F-16 since 1982, which is the longest duration the Thunderbirds have flown a single aircraft. 
 
"There's nothing that compares to the freedom of flying the aircraft, how maneuverable it is, the unobstructed view that the cockpit and the canopy the way it was designed," Turner said. 
 
The F-16 isn't a young jet, in fact, it's nearly four decades old. While the team's jets don't carry missiles, a device has been added to make the smoke seen in the shows. 
 
What really separates the Thunderbirds F-16s from others is their iconic paint job.
 
"When you look outside and you're flying over the Grand Canyon and you see the red, white and blue on your wings you just know what you represent," Bodenheimer said. 
 
The team spends more than half the year on the road and away from their families, so these pilots know the meaning of dedication. 
 
"I hope what they remember is what the jets represent is that we should all try to become the best versions of ourselves," Bodenheimer said. 
 
"It's an absolute honor, to get to represent nearly 66 hundred thousand airmen across the total force, so to be the Air Force's premiere flying demonstration is just an absolute dream come true for me," Krajicek said. 
 

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