Air Bowden: Football Coach Takes Flight in F-16

Air Bowden: Football Coach Takes Flight in F-16

May 25, 2005

Photo Gallery

Journal of Tommy Bowden’s Trip to McEntire ANG Station

  • 5:30 AM — Morning workout including weight lifting and a jog. Coach Bowden runs only 5 miles instead of the usual 8 miles in preparation for his flight.
  • 8:15 AM — Meet at Oconee County airport
  • 8:30 AM — Takeoff for McEntire South Carolina National Guard Air Base
  • 9:00 AM — Land and met by welcoming party including Lt. Col. Les Carroll and Wing Commander Colonel Keith Coln. “We’ve flown Congressmen and Senators before but they don’t get this much attention,” said Carroll of the dozen or so expected media members later in the afternoon. “If everyone shows up who has requested to come, there will be more media here than when we go to war.”
  • 9:15 AM — A tour of the base leads to Colonel Coln’s office, which is full of photos and various pieces from past combat missions. A photo of a T-38 plane adorns one wall. “I flew on one of those,” said current Letterwinners Association President Charlie Bussey who flew in the Air Force from 1958-66. “Wow!” exclaims Coach Bowden. “That’s a color photo!”
  • 9:45 AM — Coach Bowden meets with the base’s physician, who tells the coach what kind of physical experience to expect.
  • 10:00 AM — Meeting with the Life Support unit. The theme song from “2001” plays as Coach Bowden walks in. “That means we’re winning today,” he says. “When I hear that music it means a W.” Coach Bowden puts on his flight suit, boots, helmet and G-suit, which is used to help keep oxygen flowing throughout the body. He is also given two small bags in case his lunch decides to come back up during the flight.
  • 10:30 AM — He enters a ground egress simulator. The device is shaped just like a jet’s cockpit but is not similar to any arcade or computer game. It is used to familiarize the pilot with ejection procedures both on the ground and in the air and other emergency situations. He also straps in to a harness dangling from the ceiling to simulate a parachute and all of the potential dangers that can be encountered when deployed. He is trained by Staff Sergeants Kyle Dyment and former Clemson student Danny Payne, who walked-on to the football team in the late 1980s.
  • 11:00 AM — After getting out of his G-suit and putting it in locker #24, Coach Bowden heads to the hangar to sign autographs and take pictures with base personnel and their families.
  • 11:45 AM — Lunch at Bunky’s
  • 1:00 PM — After returning from lunch, Coach Bowden meets with the media for a pre-flight press conference. The one-liners were plentiful.

Q: “What does your wife think of this?” A: “She increased my life insurance yesterday.” Q: “How do you expect it to be up there?” A: “Where’s Captain (Rick) Noble? His nickname scares me a little bit, `Slammer.'” Q: “Do you have any places you want to visit?” A: “Yeah, there are a couple of recruiting stops I need to make. I’ve got some calls out telling people to open up their windows around 3:00 and I’ll buzz em.” Q: “Isn’t your pilot today a Clemson graduate?” A: “Yes. I’m hoping he was an A-student.

1:30 PM — Pre-flight briefing.Captain Noble goes over the flight plan, communication andemergency procedures. The flight cannot break the sound barrier,making the top speed around 600 miles per hour. The flight will beapproximately one hour and will go to Clemson, the South Carolinacoast, then back to McEntire Air Force Base. After takeoff the F-16will climb 10,000 feet in 10 seconds and arrive in Clemsonapproximately seven minutes later. “We can do whatever you want todo,” Noble tells Bowden. “Most people have enough around 5 or 6Gs,but we can do more if you want to.” A G is the weight of gravity.An F-16 can go up to 9Gs, or nine times the weight of gravity.2:00 PM — After making a call to his other pilot,wife Linda, signing more autographs and making one last bathroomstop, Coach Bowden puts on his full flight gear and heads to therunway. 2:15 PM — Photo shoot with members of themedia. 2:45 PM — Pre-flight check in the cockpit,Members of the media cleared off the runway. 2:58PM — Flight Demon 51 takes off and immediately climbs10,000 feet while pulling 6 G’s. “We’ll know how much he can takeby their flight pattern,” says Col. Coln “If they come in with anice easy landing in less than an hour, he’s had enough.”4:18 PM — Twenty minutes later than scheduled,Demon 51 returns and buzzes the tower before circling around toland. 4:25 PM — Coach Bowden sets two feet backon the ground and is immediately swarmed by media. “You come inwith a great respect for the military and you leave here aftertoday with more respect for what they do and what they’veaccomplished,” he says.

Q: “Did you try to strike Williams-Brice Stadium?” A: “I pushed the button but they were firing blanks.” Q: “How boring will the plane ride home be now?” A: “We’re gonna have to upgrade our service. Maybe if we can get 10 wins we’ll get one of these jets.”

Captain Noble also speaks with the press. “He took everything I gave him and asked for more,” said Noble. Coach Bowden is then presented with a pin for pulling 9Gs

4:50 PM – After more pictures and autographs,Coach Bowden gets out of his flight suit and back into civilianclothes. He returns the two small bags unused. He and CharlieBussey present Clemson hats and shirts to members of the 169th, whoin turn present the coach with a document certifying hisachievement. 5:10 PM — After some final picturesand autographs, Coach Bowden boards the school plane. 5:20PM –Plane takes off headed back to Clemson 5:50PM — Passengers and crew land at Oconee County Airportand Coach Bowden heads home for the day.