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Levittown man to debut as Air Force Thunderbirds at Jones Beach air show

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh is the Thunderbirds' director

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh is the Thunderbirds' director of operations. Walsh is in his second season with the team and the Levittown native will be piloting the No. 7 jet at this month's Jones Beach air show. Credit: USAF

A Levittown native will buzz Jones Beach at up to 600 mph later this month when he debuts as an Air Force Thunderbirds pilot at the Bethpage Air Show.

Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, 38, spent many summers at the beach and out on the water while growing up on Long Island.

This time, he’ll be zooming over thousands of people including his admiring parents — Louise and Thomas, still of Levittown.

During the May 27-28 show, the wing tips of the six Thunderbirds jets, F-16 Fighting Falcons, will be as close as 18 inches apart. With sudden turns of dogfight intensity, Walsh said the pilots must be in peak shape — flexing their legs and stomach muscles — to keep from fainting during the maneuvers.

“It’s incredibly physically demanding,” the pilot said in an interview Tuesday. He noted that a person’s arm that usually weighs 10 pounds will feel like 90 pounds at 9 Gs, or nine times the normal force of gravity.

Walsh recalled his Woodstock-attending parents were shocked when he said he wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he stuck to his goal.

Getting into the Air Force Academy required him to spend a preparatory year at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania, after graduating from St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington.

“Don’t let anybody tell you no, because it’s going to happen — it’s up to you to pursue your own goals,” said Walsh, a veteran of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who is now the Thunderbirds’ director of operations.

He said the logic and reasoning he was taught has served him well.

“Having an analytical approach to problem-solving, something that you would use in math and science, is helpful to learning how to fly aircraft,” he said.

At the Jones Beach show, Thunderbirds jet No. 1 will bear the name of Army Sgt. Anthony L. Mangano, 36, of Greenlawn, who was killed in a 2008 ambush in Afghanistan.

Other performers at the free show include the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, GEICO Skytypers and the American Airpower Museum Warbirds.

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