"On Eagles Wings" by Daniel Rodriguez
As a boy I always dreamed of soaring where eagles fly, fast and free, and now I would get the chance
May 22, 2007:
I arrived at the Wyndham in New Orleans yesterday and was met by Colonel Pat Griffin. We were joined by Elaine Rogers from the U.S.O. in Washington. We got a short tour of the devastated area affected by Katrina and then met General Villon, Mary and “Deacon” the F-15 fighter pilots we were to become friends with over the next 48 hours.
We got an early start the next morning. Elaine and I were picked up by Colonel Michael Lop, (call sign “Lo”) - the pilot who was going to be taking Elaine up, and I was going up with Colonel Gregory O’Conner, (call sign “Yuppie”).
We got to the Coast Guard base and were fitted for flight suits and G pants. The G pants leggings inflate when the aircraft goes into G-turns. This prevents the blood from rushing to your feet and may cause black out if the G-force is maintained for any length of time.
We were then fitted for helmets and oxygen masks and finally given a briefing of the controls we were going to be responsible for and how to operate them. It really was a wonderful experience to go through, in a much diluted way, the preparation routing of our fighter pilots, and to be a part of that world if only for a little while. We were escorted to a ready room and given some last minute instruction and then out to the aircraft we went.
The F-15 Eagle is a fighter jet with two supersonic engines that can run at nearly 3x the speed of sound and pull up to 9 G’s. We were going to experience its full potential this day. Elaine was already being strapped into her jet as I approached the F-15. It was beautiful. As a boy I always dreamed of soaring where eagles fly, fast and free, and now I would get the chance.
I climbed the ladder and stepped into the back of the cockpit. It was not as snug as I thought it would be and I was very comfortable. Put on my helmet and mask, gave the ground crew a thumbs up and we were on our way.
On the runway I armed my ejection seat and “yuppie” comes over the intercom and says “There's No turning back now, are you ready?” “Let’s fry some asphalt” was my reply. The engines roared with life and we were off. Quickly getting up to takeoff speed, I felt the engines kick into high gear and I was on a rocket ride of a life time. We pulled a 3 G vertical climb and in seconds were looking down at the clouds.
It was amazing. In a fighter you are surrounded by glass from your mid chest up and the view is tremendous. “We're going to pull 5-G’s on this next turn, are you up for it?” I heard on the intercom. “Go For it” I said, and next thing I know I am being squeezed by my leggings, and as trained I begin short breaths into the turn to prevent my chest from expanding too far. This helps keep the blood in your upper body. It sounds worse than it is and I loved every second of it.
After a few more maneuvers and a run at Mach 1.5, we were headed back to base and even as I write this entry on solid ground, my head is still up there in the clouds where eagles fly. ~Daniel