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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Air Force vet knows cockpits from inside and out

Stormy Boudreaux remembers running defensive plays on a rather unique gridiron.

“The primary way to avoid surface-to-air missiles was to visually see them, and as they got really close, just as a running back might give someone the idea to go left, you break to the right,” said Boudreaux.

Years after executing such evasive maneuvers in North Vietnam, the former F-4 Phantom fighter pilot designs cutting-edge cockpits for today’s Air Force pilots. That’s what the Willow Park resident has done each day as a team member and test director at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in west Fort Worth.

As a member of the defense contractor’s Simulator and System Integration Laboratory Pilot-Vehicle-Interface Team, Boudreaux helped design the F-35 fighter cockpit. Having completed most of those duties, Boudreaux focuses his days on serving as test director and F-35 instructor, teaching the plane’s capabilities to pilots.

“It’s something I really love and really appreciate so many years after joining the Air Force,” Boudreaux said.

Before outrunning enemy aircraft over North Vietnam and helping design cutting-edge cockpits for stealth fighters, Boudreaux was a high school student discussing aircraft design with his girlfriend’s father.

“He and I spent hours working on his boat talking about things. He would explain how planes flew and things like that that gathered my interest,” Boudreaux remembered.

Growing up surrounded by military men and women — an uncle served the Marines and all of his mother’s brothers in either the Army or Air Force — Boudreaux seemed destined for service. That destiny was fulfilled in his junior year at Tulane University when a stroll to the local courthouse led to Army, Air Force and Navy recruiters. The year was 1967, and the nation found itself at odds over the Vietnam War.

Boudreaux took Air Force and Marines placement tests, passed both and was encouraged to pursue navigation.

“But my future father-in-law said, ‘No, you want to be a pilot.’”

So Boudreaux enlisted in the Air Force and served 24 years as a pilot, flying F-4 Phantom, T-38, T-33, U-2 and SR-71 aircraft. Not only did he log more than 6,000 flight hours in 24 years, but he also was one of only 12 pilots who flew both U-2 and SR-71 aircraft.

Those planes were designed to fly undetected. But while the U-2 eluded radar detection in stateside testing, it wasn’t beyond the reach of Soviet radar, Boudreaux said. The later SR-71 aircraft, while larger than the U-2, was faster and able to elude enemy radar. The F-4 Phantom boasted no such technology, requiring pilots to rely mostly on their senses or relatively simply stealth technology.

“We’d have to hide behind hills or fly at a low altitude,” said Boudreaux, who logged 680 combat hours while serving in Vietnam, Grenada and Operation Desert Storm, among other operations.

Asked whether any missions ever threatened his life, Boudreaux paused.

“Those missions that we did over North Vietnam, they led you to pause for a bit and think about your mortality.”

Yet Boudreaux would solider on for many years before retiring from the Air Force in 1992. His life took an unlikely turn when he opened an art gallery and framing store in Yuba City, California.

“I was doing OK but not making ends meet, so I got a second job at a mom-and-pop hardware store, mixing paint.”

“Retirement” continued to be a relative concept for Boudreaux, who was hired by Northrop Grumman to work on the B-2 bomber. His flight pattern changed again in 1995 when he began working with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s “Skunk Works” division, which takes its name from a secret project during World War II.

Boudreaux found himself part of a three-man team that designed and tested the “glass cockpit” for the U-2 and led the division’s U-2 Cockpit Working Group.

The cockpit’s so-called glass design refers to a more unified dashboard display compared to the round dials that formed early cockpit layout.

In 2003, Boudreaux transferred from California to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Fort Worth to work on the F-35 Lightning II program.

Boudreaux continues to enjoy Fort Worth and his current endeavors. He and his wife, Darlene, executive director of TECH Fort Worth, live in Willow Park, with Stormy a proud papa of four sons and one daughter. As he approaches his 70th birthday, does he see retirement loom closer?

“I don’t know. I enjoy what I do so much. Another couple of years or until someone says you’re not doing a good job anymore. Until that happens, I’ll keep doing what I do.”

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