BECKMAN FLIES WITH THE THUNDERBIRDS

LAS VEGAS (Nov. 21, 2009) - Following the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series year-end banquet in Los Angeles on Monday, "Fast" Jack Beckman traveled to Las Vegas to fly with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.

As a guest of the Air Force, Beckman fulfilled a dream he's had since he was a kid and a sergeant in the Air Force by taking the back seat of an F-16/ Fighting Falcon for an hour-long adventure in the skies surrounding Las Vegas.

After completing a three-hour flight physical and safety training program, he and pilot Lt. Col. Derek Routt, the Thunderbirds Operations Officer who has logged more than 2,500 hours of flight time in the F-16, launched from Nellis Air Force Base.

Beckman, who usually drives the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, and holds the national top speed record of 333.66 mph racing to a quarter-mile, found his match in the F-16.

"It was like riding a roller coaster on steroids with your eyes closed," said Beckman. "Your view forward is completely obscured by the dash, some of the flight instrumentation and the pilot sitting in front of you. You can see very well out to the sides and up, but you can't tell which way he's going next. And that plane is absolutely amazing. Imagine everything a jet fighter can do and multiply that by three. The F-16 can do more than a human body could ever withstand.

"As we're rolling down the runway to take off, Lt. Col. Routt says, 'This isn't going to be much compared to your Funny Car.' I have to tell you, it was still impressive the way that thing kept pulling.

"He takes off, pulls up the landing gear, and we're 10 feet off the deck. Then he's calling out the speed to me over the radio. 'We're at 250, we're at 300, we're at 350.' He says, 'Are you ready?' I say, Yeah. He takes that thing vertical and we climb to 12,000 feet and it didn't take very long. Then he snaps it inverted, levels off and rolls the thing back to level. And that's how the flight starts.

"I've always been an airplane fan since I was kid and I always had high regard for jet fighter pilots and that just doubled on this flight. What Lt. Col. Routt was able to do was incredible. We pulled 9.1gs. I didn't black out, and didn't even get close to blacking out. Let me tell you, Lt. Col. Routt really lived up to his call sign, 'Tazz,'" Beckman added. "He was throwing that plane around like a Tasmanian Devil.

"I wore a g suit basically from my navel on down. It just crushes you. You think it's going to turn your pelvis into powder. When they pull anything over 4gs you can feel it give you a comfortable little squeeze. When it gets up to about 6gs that thing is really laying into you. At 9gs it feels like an anaconda is crushing you. And then you're doing breathing exercises so you don't pass out and it worked great. He did a loop and an 8-point roll. That's the one that finally got me. It was unbelievable.

"Of the hour, 30-35 minutes of it was flying to locations and doing scheduled maneuvers, and 25 minutes of it was like being inside a dryer on full speed.

"When I got out I felt like I just got off the longest roller-coaster ride on the planet. I was pretty lightheaded. At the same time you realize it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and, yes, I would do it again.

"There were so many people who were instrumental in getting this organized for me, from Pamela Robinson, GS-5, DAF, 57th Operations Support Squadron; TSgt Randy Redman, NCOIC Community Relations, USAF Thunderbirds; to Capt. Jason L. McCree, USAF ACC USAFADS/PA, Nellis Air Force Base.

"What an amazingly professional staff," added Beckman, who flew "solo" without the rest of the Thunderbirds squadron. "I spent four years as an Airman so I can absolutely identify with these young people. I was one of them. The Thunderbirds are really the elite of the entire Air Force. That assignment is perhaps the most prestigious one in the Air Force and they live up to it."

The F-16/ Fighting Falcon is capable of flying two times the speed of sound and is currently being flown throughout the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. It was designed to be a cost-effective combat "workhorse" that can perform various kinds of missions including air-to-air, as well as air-to-ground combat.

"The Thunderbirds' mission is to represent the 700,000 Airmen serving on Air Force's active-duty, Reserve, Guard and civil service. They perform air shows worldwide, but also capitalize on media opportunities by flying celebrities such as Jack Beckman," said TSgt Redman. "This way Jack's fans have the opportunity to hear the Air Force story through his experience with Airmen."

-credit: dsr