From raceway to runway
By Senior Airman Kathryn R.C. Reaves, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team
/ Published April 18, 2019
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Airmen assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing and Air Combat Command F-16 Viper Demonstration Team hosted Conor Daly, Air Force Honda race car driver, and Townsend Bell, sports commentator and professional race car driver, April 15-16.
During the U.S. Air Force Recruiting coordinated visit, Daly and Bell had the opportunity to interact with Team Shaw Airmen before receiving rides in the back of F-16D Vipers.
From medical appointments to survival training to gear fittings, Team Shaw Airmen taught the visitors how pilots prepare for their missions. Daly and Bell also gained insight on how teamwork in the military lays the foundation for success.
“Whenever you're performing a high-intensity activity, and an activity that can be potentially dangerous, you’ve got to have a good crew behind you,” said Daly. “These guys have an incredible crew here and incredible people (who) … make sure that the pilots can go out there and do their job. It's the same thing for us in the racing world.”
Once in their respective cockpits with Maj. John Waters, F-16 VDT commander, and Maj. Garret Schmitz, F-16 VDT safety observer and 55th Fighter Squadron pilot, the racers were introduced to more speed and G-forces than they could have experienced on the racetrack.
Schmitz, who flew with Bell, said they hit speeds in excess of 650 mph and experienced almost nine times the force of gravity during their flight.
“‘Toro’ (Schmitz) really talked me through what we were going to experience and did such a great job that I knew what to expect, but you can't prepare for the amount of thrust to the weight of the vehicle,” said Bell. “The speed just keeps coming and coming and coming and you're just so psyched you don't want to stop accelerating. … You feel the G-suit engage your body for the first time and, at that point, you just have to surrender.”
Part of the flights included demonstrating training scenarios that keep pilots ready for deployments.
The drivers got a taste of what it is like to be in combat from the two highly trained and competent pilots during a simulated dogfight, said Bell. The racers experienced the flow of competitive adrenaline similar to what they feel when on the racetrack.
As Bell and Daly returned to their preparations for the Indianapolis 500, they left with a new understanding of how Airmen get the mission done.
“I think if you ever get a chance to fly in an F-16, you have to do it no matter what fears you may have in your life,” said Bell. “(I’m) super thankful the Air Force has let us come out and do this. This is an awesome opportunity. Our car for the Indianapolis 500 is going to look awesome, so I can't wait to have (the F-16 VDT) out there and hopefully we can go just as fast as a fighter jet on the racetrack.”