• 72°

A Gr-r-r-reat way to fly

In fact, the precision fliers have been seen by more than 310 million people in more than 3,500 air demonstrations in all 50 states and in 59 countries. The constant travel required can take its toll on a pilot’s family, so Rick truly appreciates the time he has with his wife, Leslie, and their two little girls.

&uot;Normally the officers only fly with the team for two years, but Rick was asked to fly a third year to keep the team balanced…he said ‘yes’ but only after a lot of soul-searching. Leslie takes the kids to some of the shows to give them more time together with their dad, but they have to pay their own way -- so it gets expensive,&uot; explains Mrs. Boutwell.

As for worrying about a son who routinely flies his F-16 at high speeds only 18 inches from another jet, &uot;Rick always says he’s a lot safer up there [in the plane] than he is driving on the Interstate…he trusts his fellow pilots to know what they’re doing. They routinely practice for hours each day, day in and day out &uot; says his dad.

&uot;Rick told me he's run by McDonald's before and had people ask for his autograph on a napkin. He feels humbled by things like that, because he figures when he climbs out of that plane and take off the red flight suit, he's just another regular husband and father,&uot; comments Mrs. Boutwell.

The Thunderbirds, both in flight and in their homes, have also have been featured in a special television documentary (underwritten in part by the Kellogg Company) entitled &uot;Reach for the Sky: Inside the Air Force Thunderbirds&uot;. It is currently playing on PBS stations across the country. (Further information is available at www.mountainlake.org.)

Rick Boutwell and the team are scheduled to perform in Massachusetts, North and South Dakota and Chicago, Il., during August. His parents had hoped to see him again in early September in a Mississippi show, but that event has unfortunately been cancelled.

&uot;We hope he’ll be able to get home for the holidays…he really does love it here in Butler County,&uot; says Mrs. Boutwell. &uot;When Rick was stationed in the Florida Panhandle, he could easily run up and see us for the weekend. Now that he’s in Las Vegas, he just can’t get home as much as he would like -- but he’s amazed and happy at how often he will see hometown people at air shows all across the country,&uot; comments Mrs. Boutwell.

Rick’s love of planes goes back to his childhood. During his dad’s military assignment to Goose Bay, Labrador, in Canada, a very young Rick was &uot;thrilled&uot; when he got the opportunity to first fly by plane to the U.S. and then be taken by helicopter to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for the removal of troublesome adenoids.

&uot;He wasn’t actually sick at the time -- so this was a great adventure for him,&uot; recalls his mom, adding, &uot;At Eglin AFB in Florida, the family all loved to watch the planes soaring overhead…Rick and I also took a trip to see one of the NASA shuttles -- he was so excited.&uot;

As a teenager, Rick once climbed aboard a plane with Van Huggins and took an aerial snapshot of his Greenville home-unbeknownst to his parents until after the fact.

Later, as a student at Troy State University, Rick used his ROTC stipend to take private flying lessons.

&uot;Now, looking back on those days, Rick says, ‘Mom, I can’t believe they let me solo knowing no more than I did -- but you know, I think it probably gave him an edge, because he did so well later on,&uot; comments Mrs. Boutwell.

She admits she was surprised it was Rick who ended up as the ace pilot in the family.

&uot;Our son Bill was always the daredevil of our three kids. He was the one who wanted to water ski bare-footed, go rappelling off cliffs…Rick was always much more cautious,&uot; Mrs. Boutwell explains.

Today Bill, an instructor at the Federal Job Corps Center in Montgomery and sister Rachel Heartsill, a Prattville schoolteacher, &uot;both enjoy and take pride in what their brother does,&uot; says their mom, who adds with an earnest smile, &uot;Let me say I’m equally proud of all my kids-it just so happens only one ended up on a cereal box.&uot;

The Boutwells try to journey to their son’s air shows whenever possible. Recently they traveled to Fort Lauderdale to see Rick and his fellow Thunderbirds perform in a gigantic joint land and sea show. &uot;It’s estimated there were more than 4 million people there for the [two day] show,&uot; says Mr. Boutwell.

In fact, the precision fliers have been seen by more than 310 million people in more than 3,500 air demonstrations in all 50 states and in 59 countries. The constant travel required can take its toll on a pilot’s family, so Rick truly appreciates the time he has with his wife, Leslie, and their two little girls.

&uot;Normally the officers only fly with the team for two years, but Rick was asked to fly a third year to keep the team balanced…he said ‘yes’ but only after a lot of soul-searching. Leslie takes the kids to some of the shows to give them more time together with their dad, but they have to pay their own way -- so it gets expensive,&uot; explains Mrs. Boutwell.

As for worrying about a son who routinely flies his F-16 at high speeds only 18 inches from another jet, &uot;Rick always says he’s a lot safer up there [in the plane] than he is driving on the Interstate…he trusts his fellow pilots to know what they’re doing. They routinely practice for hours each day, day in and day out &uot; says his dad.

&uot;Rick told me he's run by McDonald's before and had people ask for his autograph on a napkin. He feels humbled by things like that, because he figures when he climbs out of that plane and take off the red flight suit, he's just another regular husband and father,&uot; comments Mrs. Boutwell.

The Thunderbirds, both in flight and in their homes, have also have been featured in a special television documentary (underwritten in part by the Kellogg Company) entitled &uot;Reach for the Sky: Inside the Air Force Thunderbirds&uot;. It is currently playing on PBS stations across the country. (Further information is available at www.mountainlake.org.).Rick Boutwell and the team are scheduled to perform in Massachusetts, North and South Dakota and Chicago, Il., during August. His parents had hoped to see him again in early September in a Mississippi show, but that event has unfortunately been cancelled.

&uot;We hope he’ll be able to get home for the holidays…he really does love it here in Butler County,&uot; says Mrs. Boutwell.