SAN ANTONIO – The Air Force’s Thunderbirds are scheduled to fly over San Antonio Wednesday afternoon but did you know that Good Morning San Antonio anchors Leslie Mouton and Mark Austin have flown with them?
They both share their stories (and photos!) below:
It was June 1989 when I went to England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana to fly with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. I was selected by the elite group to do a story for television news. They selected one reporter from television, one from print, and one from radio.
I remember being scared out of my mind. I met my pilot, Maj. Dave Janik, and he gave me a brief synopsis of what would happen. He explained what I may feel like, and warned me that I may very well throw up or pass out. That eased my mind - NOT ONE BIT.
He stepped out of the briefing room and this handsome, cocky, young pilot heading out to fly an A10 saw me sitting there and walked up to me. “Hi, my name is Mad Dog and I’m your pilot!” he said.
“No you aren’t,” I replied. “I’ve already met my pilot!” It turns out about nine months later I would end up marrying Mad Dog aka Tony Mattox. But I digress.
After the briefing and the instructions, I was fitted for a helmet, handed two barf bags and then I climbed into the jet. My heart was pounding. The flight lasted about 30 minutes. The skies were blue - it was perfect weather.
What a strange feeling as we would go higher and faster. He did several aerial maneuvers and as we pulled more Gs my G-suit would squeeze my legs to keep blood from rushing from my head and pooling in my lower body. The pilot even let me have control for a few turns and rolls.
I’m happy to tell you I did not throw up and I did get my 9G pin! It was an absolute blast. It also gave me a new appreciation and respect for the physical and mental demands it puts on a person. I am in awe of the brave men and women who operate these incredible, sophisticated machines in combat situations.
While I did not throw up, my husband swears I passed out briefly because there’s a lull in the audiotape. I have no memory of it, so I say it didn’t happen! It was an experience of a lifetime that I am eternally grateful for and will never forget!
I grew up the son of an Air Force pilot. I’ve loved the Thunderbirds ever since I saw them as a boy at Travis Air Force Base in California. I was dazzled by those sleek T-38s. I even remember building plastic models of the Thunderbirds, flying their old F-4 Phantoms, and hanging them from my bedroom ceiling with fishing line. It never occurred to me I would ever have a chance to crawl in the cockpit let alone fly with them in the amazing F-16.
In 2002, just a few years after I arrived at KSAT, I was offered a “media flight” with the Thunderbirds who were in town for an airshow. A KSAT photographer accompanied me to Lackland AFB since we intended to air a story about my experience. I met the public affairs team, flight crew and my pilot, Thunderbird #8, Maj. Dann Carlson.
I changed into a flight suit, helmet with oxygen mask and standard-issue G-suit (designed to compress and push blood up from the legs to help prevent blackouts during high-speed maneuvers). After a lengthy safety briefing, we hit the flight line. An in-cockpit video system would record my entire flight including audio. The acceleration of takeoff was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.
Once we were wheels-up, we almost immediately went straight vertical - punching through overcast skies into bright sunshine. We leveled out, and flew down near Laredo, where Maj. Carlson pushed the plane into stomach-churning twists, turns and rolls. It was intense but thrilling.
He said, “you ready to pull nine Gs?” I agreed and he put the plane into a dogfight-like curve. The plane shuddered and I nearly blacked out. After more impressive acrobatics, we flew back to San Antonio. Upon landing, the public affairs team yelled: “did you barf?” Nope but, man, it was close. Very close.
While shaking hands and taking pictures after my dream flight, Maj. Carlson handed me a small pin. Featuring the silhouette of an F-16 and the Roman numeral nine, it signified I’d endured extreme G-Forces (9Gs) in one of the world’s best fighter jets. I also received a certificate of my flight with Thunderbird 8.
Unfortunately, the cockpit video system failed and we had no in-flight footage to use. But I’ll never, ever forget the experience.
18 years later, I’ve still got my keepsakes from my flight with the Thunderbirds. I’ve learned that my pilot, Dann Carlson, is now a Brigadier General and commands the Air National Guard in Hawaii.
San Antonio Flyover
The Air Force’s Thunderbirds are saluting and thanking all health care workers, first responders and other essential personnel who are serving on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic with a flyover of San Antonio on Wednesday. The flyover is scheduled to start around 2:20 p.m.
If you get good pictures or video of the flyover, upload them here with KSAT Connect and we may use them on air or on our website.
For more information on the Thunderbirds, visit www.afthunderbirds.com.