Viper Ride – October 12, 2007

Exactly one year ago I got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fly an F-16. This is what I wrote after I woke up and recovered.

Today I logged my first 1.4 hours of Viper time. Lt. Col. Kevin “Coconut” Grove was the pilot on my first F-16 flight. We started off by doing a full afterburner vertical ascent to 10,000 feet. This pulled about 3.2Gs. The strangest thing about sitting in the cockpit of this aircraft while it is flying is the lack of engine noise. The vertical takeoff was completely silent.

After we got to altitude we meandered up past Sedona to Meteor Crater. I’m going to have to plan a trip (road) there. It looked really neat from the air. We then headed west past Flagstaff and got a short view of the Grand Canyon. We were running into some wind so I opted to cut the Grand Canyon tour short in favor of more time in our airspace.

Once we saw the Grand Canyon to our right he gave me the jet. I banked to point to our airspace and did some S-turns to get used to the controls. Upon arriving in our airspace I did a quick left aileron roll. The stick took some getting used to as it only has about a quarter of an inch of play. Slight movements of the stick translate to huge movements of the jet. After the left roll I did another one to the right. My second was a lot faster than my first. I did some vertical movements and experienced some negative Gs.

As I was in the back seat I didn’t have a traditional HUD. I had an MFD with a HUD display overlaid onto a camera view of straight forward from the aircraft. This was below horizontal from my head position so the majority of my stick time was spent looking at this screen and not out the window.

After my maneuvers he took the jet back and proceeded to do some G checks. He accelerated to about 450 knots and did a 4.5G turn to the left and I practiced my breathing. He again accelerated to about 450 knots and then did a 6.5G turn and I again practiced my breathing. I started to get tunnel vision and he mentioned that I was breathing too quickly. I corrected this and he let off on the stick. After a quick check to make sure that I was fine he accelerated to about 500 knots and threw us into our 9G turn. This was excruciatingly awesome. I did not start to black out or get tunnel vision. I was under intense pressure and acutely aware of the sweat running out from under my helmet and down my forehead. I noticed that my mask must not have been seated right as it started warbling when I was breathing in the 100% oxygen that I turned on to help avoid passing out.

My mind was relieved when he said “There’s 7, 8 and there’s 9”. But it wasn’t over. We still had to come back down from 9Gs. After he leveled us out and I told him that I was fine, great, even, he asked if I wanted to go supersonic.

Supersonic was nothing. An absence of anything unusual. I wasn’t expecting much to happen and I wasn’t disappointed. I watched the Mach speed indicator go up from 0.5 to 1.0 and then back down. I’m sure the people below us noticed, though!

We were running low on fuel so we proceeded to head back home. He let me fly it back into the Luke area and I descended from 12,000 to 3,600 feet at which point he took over and brought us in for a landing. We dearmed our AIM 9M-9 Sidewinder and taxied back in. I disembarked and felt a bit wobbly and very tired.

I changed out of the harness, G-suit and flight suit and drove home where I promptly went to bed.

This was one of the best days of my life.