Never did I imagine that the Secret Agent L Project would garner national (and international!) attention like it has over the past couple of months. And I certainly never imagined that I would be approached by individuals wishing to thank me in amazing ways for starting the Project.
When I received a phone call in early September from the 911th Airlift Wing here in Pittsburgh stating that I'd been chosen as a USAF Thunderbirds Hometown Hero, I pinched myself and did a double-take. And then I pinched myself again.
On September 7, 2010, I was honored by being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fly in an F16 with the USAF Thunderbirds. Many of you have seen photos on Facebook, and many of you have read about it on Twitter. As promised, though, I bring you my experience here.
This was, without a doubt, one of the greatest missions of my life. I will never, never forget it, and I will remain indebted for the rest of my life to the amazing men and women of the USAF Thunderbirds who chose me for this honor and to my amazing, amazing pilot, Lt. Col. Derek "Tazz" Routt.
Thank you. From my heart's heart.
MISSION: F16 Flight
Location: 911th Airlift Wing; Pittsburgh, PA
Date: Tuesday, 7 September, 2010
Objective: Have the ride of my life.
|I had to undergo a medical screening by the Thunderbirds' Flight Surgeon, Capt. Thomas Bowden.|
|I had to sign my life away, basically. But in all honesty, I wasn't scared, despite my fear of flying. I felt calm, but excited. I knew I was in very, very good hands.|
|My main man Tseng "patchin'" me up. He explained all the patches he was putting on my flight suit.|
|Before placing the Thunderbirds' patch on my flight suit, he congratulates me for being chosen for the honor of flying with them.|
|Next up: learning about the G Suit.|
|I had to learn to put it on by myself. Lots of zippers, snaps, and other...thingies.|
|Tseng had to literally lace me into it, corset-style, so that it was custom-fit to my physique.|
|Learning about more gear I'd have to wear. This particular part was on my flight vest.|
|I had to hook myself into the vest by strapping it around and under my legs. It was very involved.|
|The face mask made me feel very claustrophobic.|
|I had to practice putting my visor up and down.|
|Pardon my language, but can I just say, "BAD ASS"?|
|I couldn't believe it, but they put my name on the canopy of the plane. Needless to say, I'll be getting this photo blown up to 11" x 17" and custom-framed.|
|It's Go Time. I had to suit up on the tarmac, right outside of the plane. I'm mere minutes away from actually climbing into the cockpit. Here I am putting on my G-Suit.|
|This handsome Thunderbird standing next to me in this photo said he'd never seen anyone suit up as fast as me. *high five*|
|But I did need a little help getting things snapped up since the suit was custom-fit so tightly. I could hardly bend over to reach the button on the bottom. Thank you, Mr. Thunderbird Handsome Head.|
|That's right, Mr. Thunderbird Handsome Head. You can help me suit up all you like. And you, Mr. Other Thunderbird Handsome Head watching in the background? I see you.|
|Mr. Thunderbird Handsome Head shows me my "sick bags" (i.e. barf bags). Little did I know that those bags would be intimately involved in my flight experience. Ugh.|
|Who's the man? I mean, woman? ME! Here's me and my AWESOME pilot, "Tazz". Easy, Ladies. Easy. He's married.|
|Why, yes, that is me in the backseat of the cockpit.|
Okay, so, um, here's where a whole bunch of stuff happens that involved the following:
1. Pulling 7 Gs.
2. Going 750 mph (That's faster than Mach 1 for any of you who are keeping track.)
3. Bolting straight up to 18,000-ft at a little over Mach 1.
4. Doing a barrel roll.
5. Flying inverted (that's upside down, folks) several times.
6. Buzzing the Pittsburgh city skyline at rush-hour while only being about 2,500 feet above the ground, while pulling about 6 Gs.
8. See # 7.
|We landed! My legs were so weak that I could hardly feel them as I stepped down the ladder and onto the ground.|
|I was so glad to be back to zero Gs (which is the force of gravity we're used to each day) that I just had to thank the ground.|
|"Tazz" gave a really heartfelt speech about me to his colleagues upon our return.|
|I received an official certificate stating that I had flown with the USAF Tunderbirds in the Lockheed Martin F-16. It included "Tazz's" signature.|
|I also received a gorgeous framed print of the Thunderbirds flying over Wrigley Field. The print had my name on it and was signed by all of the Thunderbird Officers.|
|I was given the opportunity to say a few words to everyone after my flight. I was so overcome with emotion that I hardly remember what I said. I do remember, though, that I dedicated the flight to my Pappap, who had served in WWII and had been a POW for nearly three years.|
|I received a personal thank-you and handshake from every member of the Thunderbirds. I will never forget that.|
|Receiving a personal thank-you from Colonel Gordon H. Elwell, commander of the 911th Airlift Wing, was a moment I'll never forget. He is one of the nicest, most sincere gentlemen I've ever had the privelige to meet.|