Hometown Hero Vince Vaden Gets a Thunderbird Ride

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts for show notes and links to show audio.

Vince Vaden probably didn’t think about what it was like to try to breathe with a refrigerator on his chest unless it was to empathize with a victim of an accident or fire that he might rescue. He probably didn’t think a lot about jet fuel, either, unless it was as part of his hazardous materials and disaster management training.

That’s because Vince is a critical care paramedic and certified firefighter. Most of the time, he’s thinking about other people instead of himself.

But today, Vince got to think about pulling G-loads similar to having a refrigerator on his chest or burning thousands of pounds of JP-8. He got a ride with the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds.

Vince was nominated and selected as a Hometown Hero and given the opportunity to go fly a one-hour demo with LtCol Derek Routt, Thunderbird 7.

Vince started out as a first responder by earning his EMT-Basic license. He became a paramedic just two years later. From 1999 to 2004, he also served as a firefighter for LeRoy Township near Battle Creek.

He’s now a critical care paramedic, which is the top of the paramedic ladder. He’s qualified to transport critically ill and injured people between hospitals, frequently as the highest medically-qualified person on the transport mission.

The Thunderbirds’ Hometown Hero program complements the Thunderbirds’ existing media flight program in raising public awareness of the Air Force’s capabilities while also giving back to the individuals who patiently and quietly protect and take care of us all over the country. The program showcases American people who do amazing things in their communities, bust as the airmen of the US Air Force to amazing things in the skies at shows like the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival.

I got to hang out with Vince while he suited up. He was pretty focused on the process as they patched him up, fitted him for the G-suit, and set up his helmet and oxygen mask. His wife and nine-year-old son are delightful and seemed really excited for him.

They were out on the ramp for the arrival of the team and I talked to Vince briefly. He said the kinds of things that I would imagine I said when I was in his boots (perhaps even the very same boots) and seemed pretty preoccupied with realizing the dream.

I had to leave to get to the balloon gathering to see if there was going to be a launch. They scrubbed it, probably for both low ceilings and wind. I had a feeling that they might scrub it, but wanted to get back to see about available media slots and maybe see Dave Emmert, who took me up in 2006.

At about 6:30, Thunderbird 7 roared down Runway 23 and took to the sky. Because of the low cloud layer, they didn’t do the vertical pull at the end of the runway, instead lifting off and making a tight right turn, entering the clouds level and climbing north for the Hersey MOA near Big Rapids.

Congratulations, Vince! It was good to meet you. And it’s good to know that the Thunderbirds have recognized your patient and skillful service. And that you’re an inspiration to first responders and others who serve everywhere.

Like Vince’s nomination letter says: “The number of lives he has saved is measurable, but the number of lives that he has touched and will continue to touch is limitless.”

Hope you enjoyed your flight, man! Smoke on!

Battle Creek 2009 – Day One

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts for show notes and links to show audio.

Day one at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Airshow and Balloon Festival is complete. Rotten weather generally. High 50s to low 60s and broken to overcast at 3,000 to 5,000 most of the day. Neither balloon launch happened.

But it was still a great day at the Battle Creek show. I hooked up with the WGVU grew and some other acquaintances and worked out some details for a possible media flight or two on Friday.

I somehow qualified for the really cool parking pass that lets you drive down the crowd line on Taxiway B. I’m sure that the average non-pilot driver doesn’t think twice about driving down a taxiway but, for me, it’s pretty weird driving a car down a strip of pavement that I usually navigate in an airplane. Most folks drive on the right side of the yellow line. Not me. I drive right on it. Trying to remember not to hit the clutch to steer left.

Gabby’s is here again. Oh joy of joys, Gabby’s is here again. It’s not summer without a pulled pork sandwich and huge Coke with finely-crushed ice from Gabby’s barbecue. It’s a massive cinder-block barbecue pit with pork, chicken, turkey legs, and all manner of other smoked fare. Have I had better barbecue? Of course, but not much. And when you eat a Gabby’s pulled pork sandwich with extra sauce and a side of slaw and you wash it down with a Coke so cold that it’s actually a transition-state slurry and you do all of this at the Battle Creek airshow . . . Words fail me. And words rarely fail me.

I was again on hand for the Thunderbirds’ arrival. The Wizard of Oz balloons are here this year and one of the sponsors is giving a prize for the best Dorothy costume. I was told in no uncertain terms that L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy was blond and that the brunette Judy Garland Dorothy is anathema. But the judges seem predisposed to the brunette Dorothy. Schism in the Land of Oz!

But all was harmonious when Tony the Tiger, Dorothy, and the Thunderbirds posed for this shot.

I’ve been in contact with the AeroShell team about a media ride tomorrow afternoon. The team is socked in by weather and won’t make it until tomorrow, but the weather is actually pretty clear overhead right now and it’s expected to remain so for tomorrow.

I’d love to put T-6 in my logbook in the same season during which I added T-6A, so I’m homing that either I get stick time or that my demo pilot is a CFI. Stick time seems unlikely because the AeroShell team does formation aerobatics. The media ride is a four-ship formation ride. And they’d be nuts to allow a media rider stick time in formation. But maybe they break out at some point. Regardless these are great aircraft and the pilots excellent stick and rudder guys.

Plus, I can’t let Jack Hodgson have a media ride on his kneeboard that I don’t have. Just kidding, Jack. No, not really.

Looking forward to tomorrow! Now off to Athens and Tim’s couch for some unconsciousness. Blaring Liquid Tension Experiment 2 in the car on the way there and then listening to Peter Mulvey’s Ten Thousand Mornings (an album I’m rediscovering after seeing Peter live at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in 2004 or so, buying it on CD, and then foolishly giving the CD to the guy whose tickets I used).

Smoke on! It’s airshow time in Battle Creek!

Battle Creek 2009 – Arrival

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to show audio appear in other posts.

Hello, Battle Creek! Rain and general malaise last night on the way here. Again! Must be a theme developing each year.

But a reasonably nice morning. No balloon launch, though. The winds are fine, but ceilings were pretty low at 6:00 when I showed up at the airport. The word had apparently already gone out to the balloonists because nobody was there around briefing time. Normally, if there’s going to be a launch, the place is full of hyper-caffeinated balloon crews with trailers.

A shame because the clouds are moving off to the west and it’s severe clear over the Panera Bread store on Capital Avenue where I’m writing this.

A little sad to realize that the Panera is on the site of the original Bill Knapp’s restaurant, now long gone.

Anyway, it’s arrival day for the Battle Creek Air Show and Balloon Festival. The Thunderbirds arrive at 3:50 and they sic the media on them at 4:15. Looking forward to seeing Maj Mulhare again and meeting the new personnel.

I met Brad from WGVU, tomorrow’s media rider with the Thunderbirds. He’s 60% excited and 40% nervous. Nice guy. A non-pilot, so he has lots of questions. I resisted the urge to feed him a boatload of false information (“Dude, you can see the back of your own brain during the nine-G pull!”) and we’re going to get along fine. I’ve offered to go along and shoot stills during his suit-up, which will be fun.

I suggested that he put together his post-flight speech now and not try to think of anything original while he’s still on information overload. I did suggest something to the following effect:

“Guys, the aircraft is Code 2 at best. Eight over-G’ed the targeting pod. I tried to push, but it was too late. Anyway, who wants to get my tapes? And do you think I want to hold this helmet bag all damned day?”

But, on the theory that not everyone will get the Dos Gringos reference, I bet he’ll think of something else to say.

More as things progress. I’m also looking forward to connecting with the other performers, who are trickling in over the course of the day.

Ah, Battle Creek! How cool to be back!

The show’s PR firm is tweeting information about balloon launches and other information. Follow @bcballoon on Twitter.