Thunderbirds rip through Wyoming skies

  • Published
  • By Airman Malcolm Mayfield
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are an aerial demonstration squadron that performs precision aerial maneuvers that demonstrate the capabilities of the Air Force's high performance aircrafts to people throughout the world.. The three main objectives of the Thunderbirds mission are recruitment of new Airmen, providing a positive representation of the Air Force and increasing retention of current Airmen.

The Thunderbirds gave two sports figures the opportunity for a ride of a lifetime.

Wes Welker, Denver Broncos wide receiver flew July 20 with Maj. Tyler Ellison, operations officer, and Cory Sullivan, Root Sports analyst and former Colorado Rockies outfielder flew July 21 with Maj. Michael Fisher, advanced pilot and narrator, witnessed the capabilities of the Thunderbirds from the best seat in the house-the cockpit.

The pilots performed a number of maneuvers including: loop, barrel roll, four-point roll, eight-point roll, knife edge and low-altitude maneuvering, which will also be performed during their air show July 23 at Laramie County Community College.

Before they were launched down the runway of the Wyoming National Guard base, the Thunderbirds celebrities were briefed on the equipment they would be using, safety devices and how not to pass out.

"It's like a roller coaster on steroids. We have slow, fast and faster and there's no brake," said Maj. Michael Carletti, Thunderbirds flight surgeon. "The most important piece is breathing."

During Welker and Sullivan's initial briefings before their flights, they were taught different techniques to handle the pull of the jet. With breathing being one of the main focus points, muscle tightening and flight equipment were also explained.

The importance of pushing forward, or "puke and rally," after being sick was also discussed.

With the knowledge from the mentorship of the Thunderbirds crew, Welker managed to make it through the flight.

"It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed that experience," Welker said. "I don't know if I'll be doing it again anytime soon, but I'm glad I did it and I definitely enjoyed it."

Though Welker said he enjoyed the honor of flying, he still had to push the envelope to keep up.

"I felt fine through all of it," Welker said. "Trust me, there were times that I wanted to pull the bag out but I kept strong and I was able to get through."

The day after Welker took flight, it was time for Sullivan to do the same.

"I can't even begin to describe the feelings up there," Sullivan said. "It was intense. When we did the inverted pass, it was like you're hanging off the Earth."

Sullivan said he was impressed the Thunderbirds pilots can control the jets while under such physical strain.

"It was enough just trying to keep my eyes open," he added.

Training is absolutely integral to making sure people have a successful flight, Fisher said.

"They had everything together," Welker said. "The whole breathing tip was huge, using oxygen and getting air definitely helped me."

Without the guidance of the Thunderbirds crew, handling the amount of force created during their flights would be challenging.

"This is such a foreign experience to people. Without training there's no way they'd be able to know how to handle it," Fisher said.

Along with training, a good crew is always essential to a good flight, Fisher said.

"None of that would have been possible if it wasn't for every single one of the men and women in the blue suits who worked behind the scenes to make sure we had a safe sortie," said Fisher.

With the combined effort of the whole Thunderbirds crew, they preform aerial demonstrations all across the nation and were able to give two gentlemen front row seats.

"I definitely enjoyed it and enjoyed my time here and I want to thank the thunderbirds and the whole Thunderbirds crew for giving me this opportunity and I definitely cherish it," Welker said.