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Thunderbirds flight postponed 'til tomorrow

A lone washer is all that kept me from flying with the Thunderbirds this afternoon.

After three rounds of briefings, Thunderbirds advance pilot Capt. Kristin Hubbard and I walked to the flight line to board the F-16 that would be my seat for the next hour.

But a washer was found someplace inside the cockpit. And that means there’s probably a loose bolt.  When you’re flying upside down, doing rolls and other maneuvers, having something loose isn’t such a good idea. We’re scheduled to fly in the morning.

In the meantime, we watched the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds aerial presentation team practice the performance they’ll give during McConnell Air Force Base’s open house and air show this weekend. Children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation were there Friday to watch. Wichita Eagle photographer Jaime Green and I watched and wore headsets so we could hear the pilots in the air talking to one another.

Earlier in the day, however, Sgt. Amber Alumpe, fitted me with a G-suit and oxygen mask.

Flight surgeon Thom Bowden took my blood pressure and listened to my heart and my breathing. He briefed me on how to withstand 9 G forces and explained that when pulling 9 G’s, my body will weigh nine times its weight. He instructed me how to tense muscles and how to breathe to withstand those kind of forces.

Then I met 30-year-old pilot Kristin Hubbard, currently the only female pilot on the Thunderbirds team. Hubbard has been flying F-16s for six years.

If you’re at the show this weekend, it will be Hubbard’s voice you hear narrating the performances. Her call sign is “Mother” for Mother Hubbard. Friday afternoon, she explained how we’ll do the same maneuvers the pilots will be performing in the air show — only in the show, they’ll be doing them at times only 18 inches off one another’s wingtips.

In the show, Thunderbirds pilots will demonstrate what the F-16 can do — the barrel rolls, vertical rolls, corkscrew, clover loops, flying upside down and other maneuvers. It’s the same kind of maneuvers pilots would do to escape and evade an attack overseas if they were in combat.

The Thunderbirds arrived Wednesday with a 60-member team who travel around the country each year giving more than 75 shows a year.

The team’s purpose is to represent the 700,000 men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force, including the 40,000 who are deployed. It’s purpose is also to represent the entire United States, said Master Sgt. Pam Anderson.

“We’re speaking for those who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves,” Anderson said.

Every Monday, for example, a tanker takes off from McConnell Air Force Base carrying personnell deployed overseas.

If you plan to go, the Thunderbirds will perform Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. and be available for autographs afterwards.