Video from My F-16 Aerobatic Demo Flight with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare

It’s here! The video from my ride in the F-16D with USAF Thunderbird No. 8, Maj Tony Mulhare.

Many thanks to Will Hawkins of Wilco Films for his video editing expertise and for spending hours he doesn’t have making this a really great production.

Stay tuned for the big summary audio episode of the show covering the ride from beginning to end in great detail. The episode will include audio from the suit-up, the briefing, the flight, and the demo the next day. It’ll be tied together by Thunderbird Groove, the original music by 7600 (the ad hoc band of aviator musicians that collaborates over the Internet) featuring me on guitars, drums, and bass, Scott Cannizzaro on guitars, keyboards, and sound design, and the mighty F-16 on noise!

Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) Open House – Part 2

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I was on duty all day with the Civil Air Patrol, mostly handing kids into and out of the CAP Cessna 182. It’s a new (303 hours) CAP aircraft with the G1000. I went to the ground school in January for the G1000, but haven’t flown the platform yet. Don’t know when I’m going to get some time to do it, but it would be really cool to fly a little more glass.

CAP members with at least a private certificate can train in this aircraft for $41/hour dry. That’s really outstanding, considering that you’d probably pay well in excess of $180/hour wet for something like this on the line at an FBO.

C/MSgt Penix manning the line. He was one of about 15 cadets that showed up at 10:00 on Saturday, trained all day, camped on the airport grounds Saturday night, and then worked the show all day on Sunday. The cadets are members of my squadron, the Oakland Composite Squadron (GLR-MI-238) ( I’m really proud of the job they did.

Note that C/MSgt Penix has taken off his cover. We wore covers most of the day on the ramp, but took ‘em off whenever we were marshalling aircraft. You don’t want to be the cadet whose name is written in the cover that they pull put of the F-16’s engine.

The Michigan ANG out of Selfridge ANGB sent Maj Matt Hopkins and his F-16 to the open house. Here, some kids get up close and personal with the fighter jet.

Maj Hopkins rotating for takeoff. Check out the exhaust stream behind the jet! The open house is a good opportunity to get really close to the aircraft, especially when they’re moving. The ropes are maybe 50 feet away from the edge of the taxiway and Runway 27L/9R is just a little past that. So you’re maybe 200 feet away from an F-16 on full afterburner.

Maj Hopkins did a couple of passes (one gear-down and one high-speed with a vertical pull) on departure. I got audio of that. We also had a fly-over by a pair of F-16s and an F-15 in trail and all three aircraft did a few low passes.

I hope the publicity for this is a lot better next year. I also hope that they pick some weekend other than the Woodward Dream Cruise weekend. It’s be nice to have more people out on the ramp coming to meet general aviation. I think that the airport community, and particularly the Civil Air Patrol, gave good account of itself and I hope we get bigger crowds next year.

How to Prep for Pulling Nine Gees

This is a regular blog post. Please check out the other posts if you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio.

Although I’m sure that I’ll work this in to the summary episode now in production, this communication bears posting in full.

SSgt Russ Martin is the guy with whom you communicate if you’ve been selected as a primary or alternate flyer with the USAF Thunderbirds. (Don’t inundate or stalk him. He’s not the guy who decides who flies.) He coordinates your suit-up, hands you off to the correct people, and generally makes sure that you have the great experience that the Air Force wants you to have.

I know that the Airspeed audience is particularly interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff that has to do with the actual aviation, and I thought that the text of SSgt Martin’s e-mail to me might be interesting to you. I received this about a week and a half before the flight. It covers the aeromedical factors and the process for the day of the flight and answers a lot of questions that I’d imagine most media riders have.

It’s also the first tangible indication that this experience has a very real chance of happening. It’s the kind of e-mail that makes you just sit there in disbelief that it’s actually there on your screen.

It’s also an excellent example of the Air Force’s media relations culture. It contains all of the necessary information in very clear and professional terms while at the same time being engaging and even witty.

Anyway, enjoy!



Congratulations on being selected as an alternate for a flight with the Thunderbirds. Obviously we would love to fly everyone who is nominated for a flight, but keep in mind that if the primary nominee for the flight on Thursday, July 3, is not able to fly for any reason, you are next in line!

Should that happen, the following instructions would apply…

We will need you to arrive for your flight equipment fitting at the airport by 2:30 p.m. We will meet you [location redacted]. If you need directions, please talk to [name and contact information redacted]. She should be able to point you in the right direction. She is our local Public Relations point of contact.

Please make sure that your cameraman or photographer is with you for complete coverage of your day’s activities. Also, please bring a cotton t-shirt (any color) and a pair of cotton athletic socks that come up to the middle of your calves. Both are for your comfort. We will provide you with the flight suit, harness, helmet, G-suit and all other gear necessary to make your flight as comfortable as possible. All you will wear under your flight suit is your socks, t-shirt and underwear.

The scheduled take off would be at 5:30 p.m. and would last about an hour. Because of weather and air traffic variations, we cannot guarantee an on-time take off and landing.

Your cameraman or photographer will have access to everything during the day with the exception of the few minutes you spend with our flight surgeon. Also, we will have a still photographer there to capture the entire day for you and we will ensure that you receive a CD of digital photos as soon as possible for your personal use.

Some things to keep in mind to make your flight as enjoyable as possible:

Starting 24 hours prior to your flight, hydrate. Drink water until you’re silly and then drink another bottle. Hydration combats motion sickness, so this step is key.

It is not recommended that you go drinking the night before your flight. The alcohol and its after-effects also quickly dehydrate the body and will encourage a feeling of dizziness and nausea that you will want to avoid while flying at speeds approaching the sound barrier!

The day of the flight, unless you can’t live without it, please avoid that morning cup of coffee. Avoid carbonation and caffeine the day of your flight. Both are diuretics and will cancel out all of the work you did for the 24 hours prior getting yourself good and hydrated.

The day of your flight, I want you to have food in your stomach, but nothing greasy and nothing spicy. It’s a good idea to stay away from deep fried breakfast Taquitos! A piece of fruit and a bagel, or a light turkey sandwich would be ideal. The carbs will be good for you and will help to keep your stomach settled that day.

In the meantime, remember that just because you weren’t selected to fly with us this time around doesn’t mean that you never will. The Thunderbirds return routinely to cities such as yours to participate in air shows. You can learn more about the Thunderbirds by visiting us on-line at

Thank you and have a great day!

Staff Sgt. Russ Martin
Chief, Media Relations
USAF Thunderbirds


Guys, SSgt martin is a real pro and very clearly loves what he does. He made the whole experience go smoothly and this e-mail is just one of many artifacts of that process.

Another Cockpit Shot from the Thunderbirds Ride

Tim Reed has been working on some of the pictures he took at the airshow. Here’s a rather good one of me sitting in the cockit just before the Thunderbirds ride. Can’t say what I’m thinking, but it probably runs the entire gamut.

Thunderbirds Ride – Full Description Episode

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking:

Photography by Tim Reed.

Here it is! The full-length episode with all of my initial reactions from the USAF Thunderbirds flight!

I have a lot of audio and video yet to post and I plan to do a full summary episode with audio from the suit-up, the briefings, and the flight. But, in the meantime, I think it’s important to get the story out as soon as possible.

And what better way to do that than by using that age-old journalistic technique: Hangar-flying!

For this episode, I’ve invited friend, Civil Air Patrol (USAF Auxiliary) captain, and confessed Air Force and F-16 fanboy Rod Rakic to take over the flight controls and the microphone and interview me. This is a roughly chronological (but otherwise free-flowing) discussion of the media ride that I took with Maj Tony Mulhare, Thunderbird No. 8, this past Friday. We departed the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival just before the rest of the Thunderbirds team began its demo and returned just before the demo was complete.

In the intervening time, Maj Mulhare put the F-16D through its paces in the Hersey Military Operations Area about 80 nm and 12 minutes (!) of Battle Creek and I was along to observe the capabilities of this outstanding aircraft.

Listen in and you’ll hear my impressions just over 24 hours after the ride. Plenty to talk about, but it’s still gelling, so this episode contains from-the-hip, honest, and gut-level commentary about the flight, the Air Force, and how the experience expanded the way I think about aviation.

See the links on the right side of the page for links to US Air Force and Thunderbirds resources.