This September, one Kansan will have the opportunity to climb into the cockpit of a fighter jet and ride along through loops and barrel rolls with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds, an aerial demonstration team, will take a Kansan who has made a significant impact in their community through their service for a ride-along when they are in Wichita for the McConnell Air Force Base Open House and Air Show in late September.
The Hometown Heroes program is meant to honor people who work to improve their community without seeking recognition for it, said Master Sgt. Brian Bahret, a spokesman for the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell.
"These are the type of people that go out of their way to help in whatever capacity they can, but aren't looking for thanks," he said. "This is one of the ways we can say thanks for that."
Nominees can be volunteers, teachers, neighbors or mentors; basically anyone who makes a difference in the lives of others, Bahret said.
The chosen Hometown Hero will receive the full military treatment at the base. The winner will be fitted for a flightsuit, helmet and boots and be checked out by the flight surgeon before lifting off with the Thunderbirds.
Bahret said the hour-long ride will be tailored to the winner, whether that means performing aerial maneuvers at 400 mph or simply jetting around the Kansas countryside.
"If it's somebody who loves the thrill of it, they'll run them through the paces. Otherwise they can make it a sightseeing tour," he said. "Either way it's something that's going to be memorable."
The program will accept nominations for people from around the state, but Bahret said the goal is to find someone from Wichita or its surrounding communities because those communities play an instrumental role in supporting McConnell and its members.
For those who don't get to fly with the Thunderbirds, the team will be performing at the base's open house and air show, which takes place Sept. 25-26. In addition to the Thunderbirds, Bahret said the free event will feature other military vehicles and demonstrations, as well as activities for kids and ceremonies honoring veterans.
Nominations for the Hometown Heroes program will be accepted until Sunday. Applications can be found on McConnell's website, www.mcconnell.af.mil.