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SecAF Gets ‘Violently Ill’ on Thunderbird Flight

by Brendan McGarry on June 30, 2014

From cadet to lieutenant

The U.S. Air Force’s top civilian has a new appreciation for just how hard and fast an F-16 Fighting Falcon can fly.

Deborah Lee James, who took the Air Force’s top job in late December, reportedly got sick while flying in one of the aircraft with a member of the service’s Thunderbirds aerial acrobatic team on Tuesday at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Actually, she didn’t just get sick, she got violently ill, according to a news report.

“Someone got the bright idea to invite her on the airplane,” a source familiar with the incident told Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times. “She got violently ill.”

Billed as “America’s Ambassadors in Blue,” the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are an aerial demonstration squadron assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis. The unit performs at air shows in the U.S. and around the world to drum up support for the service.

The Air Force temporarily halted Thunderbirds shows last year in response to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. But the service resumed them this year and officials were probably itching for more positive publicity by inviting James into the cockpit halfway into the 2014 season.

The demonstrations primarily feature F-16C single-seat jets and F-16D twin-seat trainers made by Lockheed Martin Corp. The aircraft typically reach speeds of as much as 500 miles per hour while in formation and 700 miles per hour — nearly the speed of sound — on individual maneuvers.

James, who also flew on the HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter and the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System during her trip to Nellis — apparently without incident, took it all in stride.

“I also learned to wait to eat lunch until after Thunderbird practice is complete!” she joked, according to the article.

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