Riding with the Thunderbirds - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Riding with the Thunderbirds

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April 4, 2003

Lowndes County - The Thunderbirds are the Air Force's most elite, daring pilots. And after nearly an hour in the air with them, its easy to see why.

From a dead standstill to complete inversion takes less than 10 seconds, and at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour, the earth literally disappears beneath you. Add to that a series of loops, flips, and stomach churners.

"We're doing Cuban turns, figure eights, a series of inverted flight, and some A-Lon rolls," said Randy Redell, Thunderbirds Pilot.

Not only does it take a strong stomach to survive the ride, but also a highly trained pilot. The Thunderbirds are the best of the best, and travel around the country performing more than 80 shows each year.

"We've all got over 2,000 hours experience in an F-16, had to go through a strict application process, and we've all served in the U.S. Air Force less than 12 years," said Redell.

Probably the hardest part of the flight is learning how to handle G forces. This is when your body weighs between three and nine times its actually weight. I had to wear and G-suit to keep my blood pumping, which feels like a full-body blood pressure cuff multiplies by 50. The F-16 can pull up to nine G's, and if you can make that, you get a special reward.

"We awarded Ashley the 9-G pin for enduing the force of about 900 pounds," said Redell.

A shiny gold pin and a slightly queasy stomach were waiting on the ground, along with lots of memories from the flight of a lifetime.

posted at 2:45PM by ashley.harper@walb.com