Thunderbirds Rule Daytona Skies

February 13th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Thunderbirds Rule Daytona Skies

USA Today
February 13, 2008
Pg. 7C
Air Force team gets to show off its speed
By Gary Graves, USA Today
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- His U.S. Air Force F-16D fighter jet buzzes Daytona International Speedway at nearly three times the speed of the stock cars that will race in Sunday's 50th Daytona 500, at a height that barely clears the press box.
And Maj. Anthony Mulhare calls the Sprint Cup drivers the crazy ones.
"What those drivers do is insane," said Mulhare, part of the elite Thunderbirds air demonstration group that will perform a prerace flyover. "We're not trying to change positions with them."
Perhaps, but they're doing yeoman's work this week, introducing drivers and media, including USA TODAY to their world, which goes beyond punctuating the end of the national anthem at sporting events.
Flyovers have become a staple for NASCAR fans who look to the sky when they hear that overhead roar before the call for "Gentlemen, start your engines!" and the ensuing roar from the ground.
The Thunderbirds, who are celebrating their 55th anniversary, will perform flyovers here and later this month before the Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is adjacent to their Nellis Air Force Base home. While Sunday's performance is just a piece of the nearly 40 demonstrations they will perform nationwide by the end of November, it will include their famed six-jet Delta (like an upside-down V) formation before they peel off.
They estimate flying over the speedway at about 500 feet, just out of reach of race spotters and photographers atop the press box. One F-16 jet will produce about 24,000 pounds of thrust, more than the entire 43-car field.
Though he took a reporter to a gravitational force of nearly 8 G's during an hour-long demonstration ride that passed over Cape Canaveral, Fla., and parts of Central Florida, Mulhare suggests that the 3 to 4 G's Cup drivers endure making high-banked turns for several hours might take a tougher toll on their bodies. Not that any of them would pass a chance to go faster.
After all, it's what drew Mulhare, 34, to follow his father into the military and eventually to the Thunderbirds. The Air Force Academy graduate and 13-year veteran is in his first year with the unit. He has flown nearly 1,700 hours, including 75 combat hours during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mulhare serves as an advance pilot and narrator for the Thunderbirds, but the eight regular pilots and dozen officers in the program know the routine. Before getting the opportunity to fly high, fast and upside down, 1,000 hours of officer training and five to seven years of flight experience were required before applying to the program for a two-year hitch.
The real and perhaps most rewarding trick, Mulhare says, isn't flying 2 miles above the earth at nearly the speed of sound. It's making those low passes, upside down.
"Some of the best acrobatics don't feel like we're moving at all, like the world is turning around above us," said the married father of two sons, both NASCAR fans. "The most beautiful sight is the world above you at 2,000 feet."
Mulhare provided an example of what drivers feel coming out of the banked turns onto the straightaway by completing several hard turns before flattening out. Not for the fainthearted or queasy stomachs.
Spectators generally are hooked by the Delta formation before the aircraft take off in different directions for maneuvers that at full tilt will resemble a high-altitude game of chicken. Mulhare and Capt. Elizabeth Kreft, a public affairs officer, said race fans will get a good taste of the Thunderbirds' routine.
Most important to the six pilots flying this weekend is timing their arrival with the end of singer Trisha Yearwood's rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner before nearly 250,000 spectators and a network TV audience. Kreft said the team will take off from Daytona Beach International Airport about 20 minutes before the anthem and rely on production teams' information in an attempt to fly over within two seconds of the close.
Getting it right is a huge source of pride for the Thunderbirds, most of whom will arrive by the weekend for practice. Above all, their mission remains reminding the public of their brethren fighting overseas.
"Hopefully, they'll ask questions about why we serve," Kreft said, "and this is the perfect opportunity to tell the Air Force story and why we put on the uniform. They look at NASCAR as the prize for drivers to achieve, and this can be an accomplishment as well."
February 15th, 2008  
T-birds at McGuire AFB, 30May-01Jun, baby...
February 15th, 2008  
T-Birds at San Angelo, Texas on 15MAR. SWEEET!

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