A Ride of a Lifetime: Fox 2 Flies with the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds

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SCOTT AFB, IL - Over this Fourth of July holiday, people were doing everything from going to local fairs to watching dog shows, or enjoying their favorite lake, but FOX 2 reporter Ayesha Khan got to experience something no one else in St. Louis got to do. She took a ride of a lifetime with the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds.

The day started with me meeting with the Thunderbirds team, who arrived in a C-17 at Scott Air Force Base.

A Thunderbirds surgeon went over specific breathing techniques, a maneuver that’s supposed to prevent the rider from passing out. Lieutenant Colonel Kevin ‘Lowen’ Walsh, better known as Thunderbird #7, explained Ayesha would experience gravitational forces ranging between -3 g to 9 g.

Then it was time get fitted into a special flight suit. It’s meant to help squeeze the blood from the lower part of my body up to my head.

There's also a helmet fitting and parachute training, just in case there is an emergency and we need to eject.

After nearly four hours of briefing and instructions, Lieutenant Colonel Walsh and I walked out on to the tarmac.

It all felt so surreal, until I was met with an F-16 fighter jet bearing my name right beside Walsh’s.
I was a little nervous but the excitement of the upcoming adventure had me all giddy.

From Scott we headed about 70 miles south where Lieutenant Colonel Walsh showed me what the F-16 can do.

We rolled, looped and flew upside down.

The maneuvers were quite tumultuous and as much as I hate to admit, my stomach couldn’t handle it anymore and I lost my breakfast, twice.

But in between, while flying at 30,000 feet, I still managed to take a few snap shots and a video of the clear sunny skies around me and the city below the jet travelling at 750 mph.

After an hour flight that included pulling 9.3 G’s and a major heartburn, we were back to where we started from.

“It is such a challenging environment,” said Walsh in a FOX 2 interview, “it’s high G’s, it’s hot, and it’s kind of a sweaty place. Nothing about the F-16 was designed for comfort so to go through all that, I thought you did great.”

I was dizzy when I got out of the bird but as soon as I got my bearings, Lieutenant Colonel Walsh presented me with a memento of my flight. A certificate with my name, above an image of the Thunderbirds formation, neatly placed into a wall frame signed by the pilot himself and the entire team.

It was an honor if not a humbling experience to have the rare opportunity of flying with the U.S Air Force Thunderbirds who are currently celebrating their 70th year.