Flying with the Falcons: Jacko's F-16 Ride

July 2, 2012

This summer, will keep you updated on what some of our players are doing in the off-season. The series, "Flying with the Falcons", starts off with Jacko Salas' first-hand account of her F-16 experience.

Earlier this summer I went on Ops Air Force, a program where rising juniors get to experience what life is like in the "real" Air Force. I was extremely lucky to get [assigned to] Shaw AFB, S.C., THE largest F-16 combat fighter wing in the world! This is where I experienced the ride of my life.

Before my flight I had to get fitted for my G suit. It's basically gear that straps around your legs and abs that allows you to withstand the g-force caused by the aircraft's crazy maneuver capabilities. Every time you pull G's, the suit inflates. It doesn't inflate with the gracefulness of a balloon, it inflates with the forcefulness of an airbag. Not cool. I also had to go through training to learn how to breathe/g-strain so I wouldn't pass out!

Before takeoff, there were so many emotions racing through me just because I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We shot down the runway and before I knew it, we were at 14,000 feet. These jets are extremely loud, but when you are inside you can't hear or feel a thing! Until you pull some G's--this is where it gets crazy! The first time the pilot pulled G's, I was like, "OK, that wasn't too bad." It felt Iike any old roller coaster. Then he turned back and said "OK, are you ready for 9 G's?" And I played it off all cool like "Yeah, I'm ready," but really, in my mind, I was panicking, saying all types of sweet Jesus prayers, hoping that I wouldn't pass out.

I took a deep breath and heard the pilot say, "OK, ready for G's..." and then it literally hits me out of nowhere. Seven seconds of 9.6 G's feels like a bear hug from hell with a splash of tunnel vision. And if you don't breathe right, you black out. It sounds horrible, but the thrill is indescribable. If I were to picture my favorite rollercoaster and multiply it by 10, it still wouldn't compare to a flight in an F-16.



After we pulled 9.6 G's, the pilot let me take over for a bit. That's right, I flew an F-16! Anyway, I took over, jammed the stick left and did a couple barrel rolls, then jerked it to the right and somehow we ended up heading straight towards the ground. Luckily, we were high up! I managed to level out the plane before I asked the pilot if we could ride upside down. The next thing I knew, we were flying inverted, my butt off the seat, my helmet touching the top of the glass cockpit and in awe of the way I was seeing the world below. It only lasted a few seconds but I will never forget it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the practice dogfight. That was insane! There were a few other F-16s up there that were trying to chase us down, so needless to say, there were more twists and turns and of course more G-pulling (no more than 5-6 Gs though). There was one part of the ride that reminded me of [the movie] Pearl Harbor, you know, where Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play chicken. If you haven't seen it, YouTube it. A scary, yet thrilling, moment.

There were no real downsides to the ride other than the occasional tunnel vision and gut checks (thank God for Coach Spence's ab workouts!). I slept like a baby after the ride though--scratch that, it was more like hibernation!

Like I said before, this was the ride of my life; pictures and descriptions will never do it justice. I had always entertained the thought of being a pilot but never really took it seriously until now. Flying an F-16 is a thrill seeker's heaven and I consider myself extremely blessed to have had this experience.

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