This is an article written by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated. He details his experiences when given the chance to fly in the back-seat of an Air Force F-14 Tomcat. Often top ranked U.S. athletes such as John Elway, John Stockton, and Tiger Woods are given this photo opportunity which helps promote both them and the U. S. Navy Air Force.
The U.S. Navy invited me to try it. I was thrilled. I was pumped. My pilot would be Chip (Biff) King of Fighter Squadron 213 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. Whatever you’re thinking a Top Gun named Biff King looks like, triple it. He’s about six-foot, tan, ice-blue eyes, wavy surfer hair, finger-crippling handshake like the kind of man who wrestles alligators in his leisure time.
Biff King was born to fly. His father, Jack King, was for years the voice of NASA missions. “T-minus 15 seconds and counting.” Remember? Chip would charge neighborhood kids a quarter each to hear his dad.
Biff was to fly me in an F- 14D Tomcat, a ridiculously powerful $60 million weapon. I was worried about getting airsick, so the night before the flight I asked Biff if there were something I should eat the next morning.
“Bananas,” he said.
“For the potassium?” I asked.
“No,” Biff said, “because they taste about the same coming up as they do going down.”
The next morning, out on the tarmac, I had on my flight suit with my name sewn over the left breast. No call sign like Crash or Killer. But, still, very cool. I carried my helmet in the crook of my arm, as Biff had instructed. If ever in my life I had a chance to nail Nicole Kidman, this was it.
A fighter pilot named Psycho gave me a safety briefing and then fastened me into my ejection seat, which, when employed, would “egress” me out of the plane at such a velocity that I would be immediately knocked unconscious.
Just as I was thinking about aborting the flight, the canopy closed over me, and Biff gave the ground crew a thumbs-up. In minutes we were firing nose up at 600 mph.
Those first 20 minutes were the rush of my life. Unfortunately, the ride lasted 60 minutes. It was like being on the roller coaster at Six Flags Over Hell. We did barrel rolls, snap rolls, loops, yanks and banks. We dived, rose and dived again, sometimes with a vertical velocity of 10,000 feet per minute. We chased another F-14, and it chased us.
We broke the speed of sound. Flying at 200 feet above the sea we did 90-degree turns at 550 mph, creating a G force of 6.5, which is to say I felt as if 6.5 times my body weight was smashing against me.
And I egressed the bananas. And I egressed the pizza from the night before. And I egressed a box of Milk Duds from the sixth grade. I went through not one airsick bag, but two.
I thought I used to know “cool.” But now I really know “cool.” Cool are guys like Biff, men with cast-iron stomachs. I wouldn’t go up there again for Derek Jeter’s black book, but I’m glad Biff does every day, and for less a year than a rookie pitching reliever makes in a single game.
A week later Biff called. He said he and the other fighter pilots had the perfect call sign for me. Said he’d send it on a new patch for my flight suit.
What is it? I asked in excitement. Then he gave it to me…