Hub for reliable, timely news about COVID-19 pandemic

FOX6’s Carl Deffenbaugh takes flight with US Air Force Thunderbirds ahead of Milwaukee Air & Water Show

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.
Data pix.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time since 2015, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will take to the skies at the Milwaukee Air & Water Show on Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22. Before wowing crowds, they took our very own FOX6's Carl Deffenbaugh up in the air.

"It's just cool because the atmosphere is electric. A lot of people are out there having a good time," said Maj. Eric Gorney, Thunderbird No. 7.

While the view from the ground is astounding the perspective from the skies will take your breath away -- literally. The Thunderbirds took FOX6's Carl Deffenbaugh for the ride of his life. First though, came a series of briefings. The flight surgeon explained the G forces Carl would be dealing with in their F-16.

"Right now we're sitting at 1 G. The F-16 is capable of -3 to +9 Gs," said Maj. Glen Goncharow, flight surgeon.

That equals nine times your body weight, so a 200-pound pilot would feel 1,800 pounds of pressure squarely on his chest.

"Those tiny little red blood cells become nine times their weight, they try to go from the top of your head down into your toes. If too much of that occurs, then that's when you end up taking a nap," said Goncharow.


Pilots perform a technique called the "hick" maneuver, where you clench your muscles and breathe sharply to counteract the G forces.

Glen Goncharow

"Not only just the physical capabilities but the mental capacity to keep visual on an enemy aircraft or whatever it may be in a training situation, and still have the wherewithal to fly the jet and stay awake," said Goncharow.

Next it was time to get geared up; getting fit for a G suit and a chance to meet more of the 130 people besides the pilots who truly make the Thunderbirds soar.

"It's an amazing experience. We get to travel all across the country, interact with the public, show them what we do," said Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Barclay, Wisconsin native.

From there it was out on the tarmac and into the cockpit with Maj. Eric Gorney, a Michigan native who flew combat tours in Iraq and Libya, before joining the Thunderbirds.

"We're happy to represent the over 660,000 total force airmen," said Gorney.

Locked and loaded, the ultimate roller coaster was ready to take off. The flight's max climb got Carl to 10,000 feet in a matter of seconds -- and then the fun began! The sky over Milwaukee was their personal playground.

Carl's flight went through many of the moves you'll see during the Air & Water show, including inverted rolls and inverted passes. The pilot even gave Carl control of the $29 million jet -- who pulled off an 'aileron roll' of his own.

After a quick flight up the coast -- and a false alarm with the airsick bags -- Carl was ready for one final exercise. Or at least Gorney was.

While the camera mount couldn't stand up to the nine Gs of pressure, the crew did. Mission accomplished on the adrenaline rush of a lifetime.


In the end, Carl admits he lost his lunch after touching back down -- just one more example of what separates America's ambassadors in blue from the rest of us.

"Absolutely awesome flight today. First time I've gotten to just go up and rage over the TFR. So we owned downtown Milwaukee for about a half-hour there, which was great," said Gorney.

The Milwaukee Air & Water Show is July 21-22 along the lakefront. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. both days. That's an estimated time depending on weather and other factors.

The Air & Water Show’s mission is to be Wisconsin’s premier free, family event of the summer -- and one of the top air shows in the Midwest.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show, viewing areas, tickets for premier seating and much more.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.