Boudreaux brothers showcase unique careers at Keesler Air Show

  • Published
  • By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs
For two brothers who grew up in the small town of Covington, Louisiana, their passion for flying led them to extraordinary careers in the Air Force. Both will take part in the Keesler Air Force Base Air Show/Open House March 28-29.

Attendees can look to the sky to see Maj. Joshua Boudreaux, the left wing pilot flying the No. 2 jet for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds out of Nellis AFB, Nevada. His brother, Lt. Col. Brad Boudreaux, a WC-130J pilot with the 403rd Wing's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron here, is a Hurricane Hunter and can be found on the ground working the event as an air show and open house Thunderbird project officer.

The Boudreaux brothers said they look forward to the Keesler event as air shows are one of the few opportunities they get to see each other. Last year, they saw each other four times at air shows, with Josh performing and Brad either attending as part of the audience or manning one of the Hurricane Hunters' static displays.

There wasn't much military presence where the brothers grew up, but their journey to the Air Force began with Brad, a neighbor who worked for Delta Airlines, an unforgettable flight with their Uncle BB, and the 1986 movie Top Gun.

Their childhood neighbor, a Delta pilot and former military pilot, first ignited his interest in flying, Brad said. 

His love of flying intensified in high school, when Uncle BB, who was an airfield mechanic, took him flying for the first time in his own plane.

"As soon as I got up in the air and looked down, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world," said Brad. "And then I said to my uncle, 'People get paid to do this?' And, when he said yes, I said, 'Well, that's what I want to do.'"

Following his flight with Uncle BB, Brad went on to earn his pilot's license after graduating high school.

During his junior year in high school, Brad was watching a rerun of his favorite movie, Top Gun, with his father George, a former supply officer in the Louisiana Army National Guard.

"My dad said, 'Wouldn't you like to do something like that?' I looked at him and said, 'Yeah, but how can I do that?' My dad told me, 'Just go do it. I can put you in touch with a recruiter, and you can talk to him.'"

The rest is history. In 1989, Brad joined the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard, in New Orleans, at 17 during his senior year of high school. He became a crew chief repairing F-15 Eagles for the next seven years. He then earned his bachelor's degree in aviation in 1994, received a commission with the Air Force in 1997 and became a B-52 Stratofortress pilot stationed at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. He has accumulated more than 4,000 flying hours, including 360 combat hours. In 2007, he transferred to the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters.

As a Hurricane Hunter, he flies into storms that pilots are trained to avoid. Using the WC-130J, a modified C-130J Hercules aircraft with specialized weather equipment, the 53rd WRS collects weather data for the National Hurricane Center. The unit is the only Defense Department organization that performs this unique mission.

"It's the thrill of doing something that very few people get to do; that's awesome," he said, adding that the Hurricane Hunters will display two WC-130Js at the air show and open house. There are only 10 in the world, all at Keesler.

"I love this job," he added.

While Brad was working his way toward becoming a pilot, his brother Josh, who is 10 years younger, was watching.

"He took me out to the base when he was a 20-year-old enlisted guy, and I got to see F-15s for the first time," said Brad. "That just seemed like a really cool thing to do and a lot of fun. So, that's where I started my path."

At 15, Josh got his pilot's license, taking his older brother's advice to start as soon as possible.

"I just loved flying," said Josh, adding that he knew then he wanted to fly as a career.

When Brad was in pilot training at Columbus AFB, Mississippi., he brought his friends home to see his family in Louisiana.

"I talked to his friends, and a lot of them attended the Air Force Academy," Josh said, adding that at the time he'd never considered going anywhere but Louisiana State University.

So, he did his research.

"I found out you had to get real good grades, high SAT or ACT scores and be well-rounded," said Josh. "I thought I might have a chance."

He thought right. Josh was accepted to five different universities, but chose to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"I was happy I had a choice," he said. "I was on the fence as to whether I should go Navy or Air Force, and [Brad] definitely swayed me more toward the Air Force. I'm glad I made that choice. It was a great university."

Josh, in his third season with the Thunderbirds, graduated from the Academy in 2003 with a degree in mechanical engineering and math. Before joining the Thunderbirds, Josh was an F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and flight commander for the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. He has logged more than 2,800 flight hours as an Air Force pilot and took part in military operations in Libya and Afghanistan, totaling more than 400 hours of combat experience in the F-16C.

While stationed at Aviano, Josh saw a video about the work the Thunderbirds did with local fallen warriors at air shows. Every time the Thunderbirds fly, they place a fallen warrior's name on one of their jets and dedicate the show to the fallen service member's family to let them know their loved one's sacrifices haven't been forgotten.

"I thought it was a great team and wanted to be a part of it," he said.

The application process took six months - 50 applied, 12 got an interview, six got a second interview and Josh was one of the three who made the team in 2012.

He travels with his team 220 days a year. The days are long, but he says he enjoys the job, especially working with the families of the fallen warriors, Make a Wish program, school visits and interacting with the public.

"It's humbling," said the younger Boudreaux. "We meet so many great people who have served and currently serve in the Air Force. You never know who you are going to run across and what kind of impact you are going to have.

"And sometimes that's tough, especially with young children," he said. "A lot of them put on a very tough exterior, especially when you go and do the high school visits and you have an auditorium of 500 students. However, one of us may appeal to one of those individuals and if we can make a difference in even one of their lives, then it's worth it to me. Someone needs to be out there to tell our future, these students, that they can strive for something better and bigger than themselves, and if I can show that by performing with the Thunderbirds, then that's great."

Another rewarding aspect of his job is seeing his brother.

"One of the nice things of being a pilot is, in addition to getting training or doing the mission, by going to these different places I get to see my brother," said Josh. "I get to brag about him and he usually does the same. We are very proud of one another."

"I'm proud of how motivated he is and of all his accomplishments," said Brad. "He motivates me to be a better person."

Spectators can see the Boudreaux brothers in their element at the Keesler March 28-29 Air Show/Open House.