Champ Bailey tackles the sky with Thunderbirds
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Champ Bailey is used to the adrenaline bursts and unscripted chaos that comes with playing in the National Football League.
But the Denver Broncos cornerback said nothing could have prepared him for the rush he experienced Monday when he joined the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in an F-16 flight over Cheyenne.
"It's different," he said in comparing the hour-long flight to playing in a football game. "I can only imagine the type of preparation (the pilots) need to go through to get to that point to fly jets like that.
"It's great, and it's a great feeling, but I wouldn't want to feel that every day."
Bailey, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, was chosen to participate in the ride-along that precedes the group's annual Cheyenne Frontier Days air show, which will be held Wednesday.
Maj. J.R. Williams, who is the Thunderbirds' lead solo pilot, said Bailey's visit was a treat for the nearly 140-member Thunderbirds squadron. But he said it also is a way for the crew to share the military experience with people outside of the armed forces.
"It is an opportunity for us to give a little taste of what the military is all about," he said. "Our job is to help represent the nearly 700,000 people voluntarily serving in the Air Force, and so if we can share that with somebody who can in turn share that message with their fans, that gets us fired up about it."
Lt. Col. Jason Koltes, who is the operations officer for the team, flew Bailey in his two-seat jet.
Koltes said he did his best to put Bailey "through the ringer" on their trip. That included exerting a force of more than nine times the force of gravity during the tough combat maneuvers and aerial rolls, dips, twists and turns.
"Champ said, 'I could take anything you dish out,' so I tried," Koltes said. "And sure enough there was nothing I could do in the aircraft that he couldn't handle."
Koltes added that many of the celebrities or other civilians who they take up can't withstand the high G-force maneuvers.
"To put that in terms for you guys, since it is Cheyenne Frontier Days, that is like the weight of a bull sitting in your lap," he said.
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