By: WCTV Eyewitness News
March 7, 2017
TYNDALL A.F.B., Fla. (WCTV) -- The United States Air Force turns 70 this year. What better way to celebrate than with an air show? In fact, an impressive show is in the works at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City Beach this April.
Many of us know what it's like to see the jets from the ground, but few get the chance to experience the view from the skies.
Last week, WCTV Anchor Ben Kaplan got the chance to ride shotgun in a fighter jet, at 500 miles an hour.
"You guys are going to be three feet from another airplane, going 350 miles an hour, which is really, really cool," says Lt. Col Richard McCurdy.
At that very moment, Lt. Col McCurdy confirmed what Ben had thought his entire life-- flying in a fighter jet would be the most amazing experience ever.
"I mean, the second the wheels leave the ground and you're looking down at the earth, it is just an exhilarating feeling," Lt. Col McCurdy says.
"Sir... stop it... I'm sold. Sign me up!" Ben says.
Staff Sergeant Michael Stanforth, NCOIC with the 2nd fighter squadron says, "A lot of information combined in this little class, but we make sure we hit the key points and you guys can be safe."
Wait... safe? What happened to fast?
Lt. Kevin "Kino" McKeown explains, "This is our ejection seat."
Ahead of the flight, the crew goes over the minor details-- like how not to eject yourself, and how to supply yourself with oxygen should you need to eject several thousand feet in the air.
"This is going to be what deploys it. It's an explosive charge." Lt. McKeown says.
It's all part of the training to fly in a T-38 Talon, adversary air at Tyndall Air Force Base.
Lt. McKeown says, "We'll fly against the F-22's, F-15's, F-16's, whoever wants to play around."
But there's a lot to do beforehand besides the training.
Like a physical.
Then, an inspirational talk from the physician, Speedy Gomez.
Doctor's orders: "Puke and rally".
Your body is not used to the amount of force it will face in a fighter jet-- as many as 6 G's!
"I mean look at me... what is there to say, I'm ready to go," Ben says.
To fly with the airmen, you must wear a 'G' suit, which helps the blood flow to your head so you don't pass out.
Your lunch might also try to force its way on up-- hence the "puke and rally" advice.
The G suit fits over the flight suit and under the parachute.
Staff Sergeant Michael Stanforth, the NCOIC with the 2nd fighter squadron says, "It's about 40 pounds."
Then of course, you need the helmet.
You're fitted for it all in the locker room for the 2nd fighter training squadron, the American Beagles, who have an amazing history.
"Behind us, what we've got are all the kills the squad amassed during WWII. And as you can see, there were quite a number of ACES and even a couple of Double ACES during that time frame," says Lt. Col McCurdy.
The two Beagles taking Ben up-- 'Smash' Stoker and 'Heat' Vanderbilt.
"Hectic 01 is going to be our flying call sign," Smash says.
After a briefing, it's out to the runway. Strapped in, canopy fastened, and away they went.
Ben and the Beagles were in the air for about an hour.
The flight started off great with views along the coast. Then, two turns-- 180 degrees at 4 and 5 G's! That's when the G suit inflates, and you're trying to push all the blood to your head.
It was after the Beagles started the 'fluid maneuvering'-- one plane on offense, the other on defense, at 6'gs and 500 mph-- that Ben's fluids maneuvered up and out.
'Heat' took it easy from there. Back along the coast, and then the smooth touchdown. Ending, what Ben says, was one of the most amazing experiences of his life.
"Still a little shaky, but, the breeze is nice. Blessed, and just thankful to be here. It was awesome," Ben says.
The 2017 Gulf Coast Salute will be held April 22nd and 23rd at Tyndall Air Force Base. Guests can see the Thunderbirds and F-22's in action, as well as several historic aircraft. Admission and parking are both free.
For more information on the Gulf Coast Salute, visit www.gulfcoastsalute.com.