I think I pulled a G or something

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Andrea Thacker
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
It wasn't until the moment that he fastened the parachute hooks around my thighs that I became super nervous. I looked down at him and said, "Gary, I think I might crap my pants."

"Trust me," he said grinning, "you'll be fine." His wife Gwen must have heard my comment, because she immediately brought me a little white plastic airsick bag. She said, "you probably won't need this, but just in case."

I was getting ready to jump in the front seat of a PT-17 Stearman as part of practice for our Community Appreciation Day Air Show. Gary Rower, the pilot and owner, was laughing at me, because he's been flying since he was 17 and has logged more than 17,000 flying hours. Not only that, but he was also one of the Air Force's first F-16 pilots! An impressive resume compared to my measly record.

During my several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, I flew quite a bit from location to location. I've ridden on different versions of C-130's, HH-60G Pave Hawks, CH-47 Chinooks and more. But even the worst combat landings never scared me as much as standing on the flight line, getting ready to experience the aerial aerobatics of an airplane without a canopy.

"Will this be like flying downrange in a helicopter?" I asked.

"Oh no Andrea, this'll be nothing," said Gary. "No one's shooting at us here."

As we taxied down the airport runway, he asked some questions. I think he did this to take my mind off of what was about to happen. We lifted off and shot skyward, engines whining.

The PT-17 Stearman started as a basic flight trainer for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. More pilots have trained in the Stearman than in any other aircraft. It was befitting I join their ranks on Veterans Day.

The 220 horsepower engines took us three miles away from the airport to begin the aerial stunts. We lifted to a certain height in the sky. How far? I can't remember. I was too worried about "where do I put my hands!" and "where do I look when we start getting crazy, so I don't get sick?"

We glided up and banked left, and I pushed on my pocket with the airsick bag. Check! Felt the pocket with my phone to make sure it was buttoned. Check!

Gary told me what the plane was going to do and gave me one last chance to turn back, "We can tell them we did the stunts -- they're back there, they will never know!" I thought to myself, "this is my shot, I can't turn back now. Go big or go home, right?"

He told me to put my hand out and feel the wind. I immediately put my right arm out and it slammed back against the plane. He laughed and said "NO! Ease 'em back, that's 120 mph hurricane force wind."

I eased my hand out again and as I did, I wasn't scared anymore. I looked down again, and I remembered my phone and decided to snap a quick self-portrait. We began the aerial stunts with barrel rolls and then quickly moved through his air show demonstration and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I couldn't help but think pilots like Gary fly every day. But I also kept thinking, pilots like the ones in our A-10C Thunderbolt IIs, must have felt like me at some point, right? Our pilots from the 75th Fighter Squadron have flown more than 5,000 hours since arriving in Afghanistan in September. An average A-10 pilot flies around 300 combat hours during a single tour downrange.

I'm sure my five minutes of fear would turn into complete shock in an A-10. I would actually crap my pants or use the barf bag, if I truly flew with the speed and accuracy of a combat pilot.

After we landed Gary said, "Mere mortals don't do these things every day. You just pulled 4 Gs, girl!" That night I was very tired and a little achy. I guess I pulled a G or something?