Home » Air » Air Force » SecAF Gets ‘Violently Ill’ on Thunderbird Flight

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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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

beeker June 30, 2014 at 7:17 pm

You could say she got SAIC (read: sick)?


Chuck U. Farley July 4, 2014 at 11:25 am

Feel sorry for the poor bastardo who had to clean that tub.


blight_ June 30, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Slow news day.


Strick June 30, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I consulted to General Dynamics years ago when the F16 was still in production. They ran a fund raising campaign by raffling off a test flight in a new F16 "guaranteed to make you puke". Very popular, raised a lot of money.

Never heard who won or how it turned out, but I have no doubt their test pilots kept that guarantee.


FormerDirtDart June 30, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The F-16 is still in production


Art July 3, 2014 at 3:45 am

Aircraft is still production, current backlog carries the production through the 3rd quarter of 2017.


Stan June 30, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I suspect it's a matter of reputation for the pilots to have their "passengers" flail for the barf bag.


glenn57377 July 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

From my experience around the jets, those that get incentive flights rarely want the experience repeated. The pilots take great delight in making anyone along for the flight sick as a dog. I see no value in the incentive flight at all unless it is a positive experience. Waste of taxpayer money. Still, God Bless the pilots that can fight and win in that kind of atmosphere.


hibeam June 30, 2014 at 9:32 pm

This story blows.


Stan June 30, 2014 at 9:35 pm



frisky July 1, 2014 at 6:48 am



Ted July 1, 2014 at 7:07 am

Quota filler gets sick.


close in July 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

This is the same woman who told McCain that we could use the B-1 to fill the A-10 role.
We are so blessed to have her at the helm.


spidennis July 1, 2014 at 10:20 am

really? you got to be kidding me ….. right?!!!


close in July 1, 2014 at 10:36 am

true, check out the senate hearing last week. they want to dump the A-10, obviously do not understand what the difference is between a tank killer and a bomber


Mark July 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Yep, and how'd that work out? Not too good for our troops (blue-on-blue).


blight_ July 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm

A-10 blue-on-blue'd in OIF because a FAC called in the strike. You don't always have time to verify, and sometimes someone punches in the wrong coordinates and drops a bomb on themselves; or some troops aren't where you thought they were and are instead where the bomb will be.


glenn57377 July 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm

A B-1 did the same thing recently. I did not read there were any mistakes in coordinates. Quite simply, the B-1 is a strategic / poorly tactical aircraft. The result were many friendly deaths. The A-10 is the best we have for that mission, although friendly deaths have occurred. With respect for the thousands of enemy kills and amount of equipment destroyed, the A-10 is a higly capable platform.


CD Crawford July 1, 2014 at 10:05 am

Your tax dollars being put to excellent use just for a joy ride!


crazy July 1, 2014 at 3:48 pm

What joy?


Robert July 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm

the Thunderbirds are training at Nellis all the time so was no a waste of taxpayer dollars


Lorin July 1, 2014 at 10:17 am

This is typical of political appointments. She started off as 10 years as Staff Member, Armed Services Committee, U.S. House of Representatives. She was also Vice President of International Operations and Marketing, United Technologies, then Executive Vice President, Communications and Government Affairs; President, Technical and Engineering Sector, Science Applications International Corporation. So she has spent her career as political work in DC. She has no background in Acquisition, Military Strategy, or leading a Production company. Seems fully qualified in the Obama Administration. Actually may be over qualified by current standards.


voodkokk July 1, 2014 at 7:11 pm

She is about as qualified to be SECAF as Obama is CiC. Can't wait until this circus leaves town.


blight_ July 1, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Plenty of lawyer presidents. If anything, lawyers run the country. Don't like it, don't vote a lawyer into any political office.


Kevin Soukup July 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I like how you left out the FACT that from 19993-1998 she was assistant SECDEF for reserve affairs. You did nail the remainder of her resume that fit in you political agenda.


Caribou100 July 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

Thinking the B-1 can do the A-10 job? As effectively? As cost effectively? Where are her military advisers? She must only be listening to the Sec Def.


moronotopia July 8, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Hmmm. Is she as qualified as Don Rumsfeld? What a stellar example of abject failure that arrogant dip**** is…


Jose Quiroz July 1, 2014 at 10:39 am

She was right. She should have waited to eat her lunch until after the flight. Nothing to be ashamed about.


Mikey July 1, 2014 at 11:44 am

I had to go cold mike on an "orientation flight" in an F-4. But I hid the bag in my helmet covered it with my gloves.


TartanSixNine July 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm

I had to google what "cold mike" meant. I somehow don't think the definition on UrbanDictionary.com is what you were going for…


Erich July 1, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Would hate to be under her on a roller coaster.

Yep nothing going on in the world today I see. All is well and peace abounds.


conradswims July 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Way too funny for me to comment! Bet she wet her pants also!


hibeam July 1, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Take a drone for a spin in an F-16. See if you can get more than a yawn out of it. Then we can try it the other way round.


Highguard July 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I and many are starting to like this SECAF. If she keeps doing the right things by view of the Force, I hope she'll make history as the first female SECDEF, not because she is a woman, but because she is a great leader.


B>Lyons July 2, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Your joking I hope!


JohnD July 1, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Looks,like the Sec AF aide can't spell DRAMAMINE! It is over the counter and works!


guest July 2, 2014 at 7:21 am

Don't believe you've every been up in an F-16. Dramamine is for carnival ridies…pushing maybe 5 G's and allowing continual point of reference. Even the most experienced F-16 pilots can get sick if they have not flow for some time.


PATRICIA KEEFE July 1, 2014 at 7:47 pm



Jeremy Johnston July 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm

I was promised a ride when I retired. But it didnt happen. Sure wished I could have.


MAC crew chief July 2, 2014 at 9:07 pm

A lot of us were promised rides. NCO of the year, retirement, significant achievements, the commanders love to make promises that any little hiccup can derail and then they give up with a "Sorry, sarge. It just didn't work out."


C-Low July 1, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Nice to know we gave the top job to a jane doe that has 0 flying experience. Here qualification well I guess its the her part and what that single trait gets her in warm fuzzy leverage from our overlords.


commenter July 2, 2014 at 7:25 am

I would like to point out that most of the Air Force has zero flying experience.

If she had flight experience, she'd have no/minimal logistic, acquisition, contracts, or maintenance experience and so on. The leader is never going to be an expert or even highly experienced in every aspect of the organization.


commenter July 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

Although probably controversial, I think it's probably a good thing that there is high level management w/o flight experience. You need that diversity of background and opinion.

Too many former fighter pilots in leadership positions just ends up with the thinking that high performance fighters are all that is important. You end up with excessive attention/resources paid to a small portion of the overall force.


sean July 1, 2014 at 11:20 pm

She's a lightweight. LOL


George a July 1, 2014 at 11:42 pm

I logged close to 1000 hr. combat hours in the Army's Loach, flying hunter/killer teams in Viet Nam as a co-pilot then as the door-gunner. Pilots always went out of their way to get a FNG co-pilot sick, whether he was a enlisted man or an officer, including myself on my first mission. Everyone got a laugh from it except the guy that got sick.


Big-Dean July 2, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Her new call sign is "Chunks"


DJ Tsgt ret July 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Having had the privelege to fly with a former Tbird in the D model the GIB is gonna lose it most of the time. Part of the ride. Pulled 9.4 gs. Not too shabby for an old enlisted swine.


b52doctor July 2, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Hope she had to clean up the cockpit as anyone else would had they experienced the same fate. It is true. She WAS going to be sick, that was already a given as soon as she whined about getting a ride in the fast, shiny airplane..


Dave Scott July 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm

No worries. A fighter flier's breakfast is a Coke and a puke!


glenn57377 July 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Although in some situations it is a plus, an effective leader doesn't necessarily have to have any experience in what he/she endeavors to accomplish. Leaders lead, warriors implement. The SECAF does not go it alone. She is surrounded by brilliant staff with all the experience that is necessary.


Chuck July 4, 2014 at 11:28 am

While attached to various Navy Squadrons I had 4 back seat rides in a F-4J Phantom and 2 backseat rides in an F-14A Tomcat. I had also flow air crewman in EP-3 spy planes out of Guam. The fast movers were a lot more exciting!


bart hooliman July 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

In other news all funding for the thunderbirds has suddenly been cancelled…lol


Jim Webb July 6, 2014 at 11:19 am

Funny side story. I was stationed at Eilson AFB, AK in the early 80's and worked at an O-2 unit which are twin engine prop jobs (Cessna Skymasters) if your not familiar. During an exercise we had an F-16 unit from Hill AFB with us. Other pilots going up in the O-2 was very popular. I got my share of rides, too. The maintenance folks had an on going bet with our O-2 pilots that if he could make a fighter pilot puke, we would buy them a case of beer. One our our pilots (can't remember his name by he was a Major) brought back a F-16 pilot with 4 full vomit bags. We gladly ponied up for 4 cases and we always referred to him as Major 4 bagger.


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