Preflight Briefing with Thunderbird 7

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

While I’m working on the music and other elements of the summary episode for the Thunderbirds ride, I thought I’d tease you a little more. As you know, I was the alternate, but got called in to suit up in case the primary rider’s camera crew failed to show up. (You gotta love ace photographer Tim Reed, who was there for me, camera in hand and snapping away. Thanks, Tim!)

After about 45 minutes, I had caught up to the primary rider in the suit-up procedure and I joined him for the preflight briefing with the demo pilot, LtCol Rob Skelton, the Thunderbirds’ Operations Officer. Here’s audio of that briefing.

Ultimately, the primary rider’s camera crew arrived just in time and he flew that day. But the Thunderbirds were kind enough to fly me the next day. I also recorded the preflight briefing with Maj Tony Mulhare, Thunderbird 8, who flew me the next day. I’ll include parts of that briefing with the summary episode.

This briefing with LtCol Skelton has a little better audio quality than the briefing with Maj Mulhare and it makes a pretty good episode in and of itself. No flies on the briefing with Maj Mulhare – it’s just going to require a little more attention in post. I was holding the MP3 recorder for the briefing with 7, whereas I had the MP3 recorder sitting on the table further away from us for the briefing with 8.

As you’d expect from a squadron with the reputation of the Thunderbirds, the briefings were remarkably similar and that speaks very highly of the team’s standardization of procedures. You’ll be able to tell when you hear the excerpts from Maj Mulhare’s briefing in the final episode.

Stay tuned!

How to Prep for Pulling Nine Gees

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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.

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.

Thunderbirds Flight – Frame Grabs!

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Rod Rakic and I just recorded the initial reaction episode and I’m working on editing it down. We also just got the video figured out. Here are some frame grabs courtesy of Will Hawkins.

Here’s a shot on the runway and ready for departure. Thumbs up!

Pulling up and flattened out by 4-5 gees as we climb for 10,000+. (And get there a few seconds later!)

Rolling to have a look at the airport below. That’s KBTL back over my left shoulder.

I’ll be editing down the episode that Rod and I just did with the idea of getting the episode posted sometime tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

Thunderbirds Flight – The Ride and Thoughts from the Ramp

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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.

Radio and other audio media: Download the takeoff audio to run with my interview at (1MB).

I got the Thunderbirds ride! Unbelievable! Didn’t want to get too excited because anything can happen from a schedule change to a malfunction at the hold-short line. But it happened!

And get this . . . I have 1.0 hours dual received in the logbook! In the F-16D. If it gets any better than this, I’m not sure I can handle it.

Here’s the deal. I’m posting the best of the pictures here this morning. Then I’m heading for the airshow to shoot more pictures and interview an Air Force recruiter in connection with the Thunderbirds story. After the airshow, I head home and Rod Rakic (CAPblog publisher, fellow CAP captain and Air Force aviation enthusiast) and I are going to sit down and hangar-fly the whole thing from beginning to end to talk about the experience. I think that will be a great way to make sure that I get the whole experience brain-dumped early on and then I can do a summary episode with the audio (and, yeah, as soon as I can get the video drivers to work, I’ll post video!) this week later on.

Anyway, above is the briefing with Maj Tony Mulhare, No. 8, the advance pilot and a narrator for the team. He briefed me on all of the procedures around 2:00.

The walk to the aircraft with Maj Mulhare and SSgt Kristi Machado. We launched just before the team’s demo for the afternoon, so we went up just before the diamond launched. 350 KIAS to the end of the runway and then a 4-5-g pull vertical to 10,000 feet or so within a few seconds. I got to see the diamond launch from 15,000 feet above.

In-cockpit briefing with Maj Mulhare. Somehow, I don’t remember arming the ejection seat as being a checklist item on any other flight! The briefing is mainly about things not to touch and a few things to touch. I had control of my oxygen and the COM radios. COM1 for ATC (Minneapolis Center for most of the ride) and COM2 for the discreet frequency for the team so we could hear the demo going on.

After the flight with Maj Mulhare in front of F-16D No. 8.

Receiving the nine-gee pin. I’ll get a macro lens at some point and post a picture of it. Only those who have pulled nine gees with the USAF Thunderbirds get to wear this baby.

Look for more audio Sunday morning as I post the episode with the full download of the experience!