FREE BIRD: What does it take to ride a Fighting Falcon?

FREE BIRD: What does it take to ride a Fighting Falcon?

EASTOVER, SC (WIS) - If you're looking for fun, free family entertainment this weekend, the South Carolina National Guard has you covered.

The Air and Ground Expo happens May 6 and 7 at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover. Ahead of the air show, Chad Mills and I got an inside look at what it takes to fly in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Chad was labeled the "primary" flyer, while I was listed as his alternate. That way, in case Chad got sick or wanted to blow out the morning of the flight, I would step in and fly in his place. Spoiler alert: Chad flew in the F-16. I watched in awe from the flight line.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a multi-role fighter aircraft. It can reach maximum speeds of 1,500 miles per hour and is highly maneuverable in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.

The F-16 can withstand up to nine G's - or nine times the force of gravity. To prepare for fighting gravity and the slim possibility of an emergency, Chad and I went through pre-flight training.

The first order of business – getting suited up. To fly in an F-16, Chad and I had to wear flight suits, harnesses, boots, and G-suits that connect to the jet to help our bodies withstand the G-forces. Everything is fireproof.

Once we got suited up, the next stop was "AFE" or Aircrew Flight Equipment training. For egress training, we got in a model cockpit and learned the emergency procedures for getting out of the aircraft, or ejecting mid-air in a worst case scenario situation.

We also learned the basics of parachuting: what to do if the straps are tangled or if the parachute is damaged.

Then, there was the flight physical and the less formal part of the training. We were briefed on what to eat (and more importantly, what not to eat…i.e., spicy Thai food) and how to breathe during maneuvers to stay conscious.

The pilot who flew Chad was Colonel Scott Bridgers, also known as "Cleetus." He's logged thousands of hours of flying time in an F-16 and is one of the most experienced and decorated pilots in the Air Force.

Next Thursday, May 11, Chad will have much more from his flight and from Colonel Bridgers.

If you'd like to catch the airshow on May 6 and 7, gates open at 8 a.m. and both days are free to the public. Find out more at
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