Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, visited Luke Air Force Base March 13 to ride in a Thunderbirds’ jet. The flight was part of the Thunderbirds’ program to educate the community about the Air Force, its mission and what the Airmen at Luke Air Force Base do every day to keep the mission going to train the world’s greatest F-16 fighter pilots while deploying mission-ready warfighters.
Prior to getting briefed on his flight, Fitzgerald talked about his prior experiences flying in an Air Force jet.
“I actually got a chance to fly in a fighter jet a couple years ago. I was nervous that time, but I’m not nervous today,” Fitzgerald said.
“Flying in a jet is definitely an experience, because you’re flying at high speeds and altitudes and doing these maneuvers. It’s definitely an experience you can’t duplicate or simulate. I’m very fortunate to be here and thankful they are allowing me to participate.”
Fitzgerald then went through a series of briefs prior to climbing in the cockpit – a medical brief, equipment brief and flight brief discussing topics including what he would need to expect on the flight, as well as how to position his body during the flight when Maj. Michael Fisher, the Thunderbird advance pilot and narrator, gave the signal.
Once he was informed and ready for flight, it was off to the flightline, where several F-16s painted in red, white and blue were lined up.
When given the signal that the jet was ready for takeoff, Fisher didn’t waste any time giving Fitzgerald the ride of his life. Right away Fisher took the jet on a vertical climb and turned the plane upside down before meeting the horizon.
Climbing out of the cockpit after a one-hour flight, Fisher expressed how impressed he was with Fitzgerald, who held his own during the flight.
“Larry is a great passenger,” Fisher said. “He’s in good physical shape and did very well on his flight. He handled that four to five g-force and five to seven g-force turn just fine and we moved right into our aerobatic maneuvers.” For Fitzgerald, being able to fly in a Thunderbirds F-16 was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“Going up today was truly and honor and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m really tired, and you can feel my suit, I sweated through all my clothes. It was a serious workout. I’m still trying to catch my breath.”
During the flight Fitzgerald experienced every maneuver that was showcased at the airshow, including the barrel roll, knife edge and the inverted to inverted pass, Fisher said.