PHOENIX, AZ — What is more exciting that winning a bronze medal at the Olympics? Nothing. But the adrenalin rush Shannon Bahrke (Tahoe City, CA) and Bryon Wilson (Butte, MT) felt flying in F-16 fighter jets with the Air Force could be a close second.
Bahrke and Wilson, along with bobsleigh gold medalists Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz, spent the weekend on Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix where they were able to tour the base, meet the officers and fly at Mach 1.
“It was absolutely incredible. It was unlike anything that I have ever experienced before,” Bahrke said. “Beforehand I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous.”
Rightfully so, as the Olympians had to go through serious precaution training before they took flight.
“To be able to go out there you have to go over all the bad things that can go wrong. Like, if something were to go wrong, how to eject out and parachute down,” Bahrke said. “There are so many buttons that we had to know, and how to get in and out of the seat. I started to panic a little. I was nervous, but once we got up there it was the coolest thing that I’ve ever done.”
Once they were in the air, the trip was unlike anything the athletes had ever been through before.
“As we were 200 feet above ground the pilot asked ‘are you ready Bryon?’ and we pulled 5Gs straight up in the air. We went from 200 feet to 15,000 feet in 7 seconds. It was crazy,” Wilson said. “We also went upside down and I could see the base below me. It was nuts. Then we cruised Lake Powell. We flew low level and over the people on all their boats. We also flew over the Grand Canyon and he also let me fly the plane, which I didn’t expect. It was unbelievable.”
The trip wasn’t all flying, though, as the athletes toured parts of the base, learning along the way about the things the Air Force does at Luke Air Force Base.
“The first day that we got there each of us was sent off into one branch of the Air Force. So, I got to go meet the opps department,” Bahrke said. “We got to go through the K9 unit, and we all got to go around the base and meet everyone in their own element.”
Wilson’s tour involved a lot of playing with fire, in which he was very excited to participate.
“I was able to go in and see all the different parts of the plane. I was also able to see an engine they were testing in a big room. They put it into after burn right in front of me. I was literally 10 feet away from a 200 degree burn,” Wilson said. “I also got to see a bomb disposal, where I got to blow something up. I also got to see a bomb disposal, where I got to blow something up. It was so cool.”
And, to close things up on their trip, the Olympians spent the night talking to and celebrating with the officers on base.
“We got to do what’s called a warrior call, which is just getting up and speaking, and that was really awesome. There were so many people there and they all seemed engaged in what we were talking about,” Bahrke said. “Then we got to go celebrate with everyone. It was really nice getting to know what those guys do for our country. We both represent the U.S. in different ways and it was an honor to be part of that – to share our stories and hear theirs, too.”
In the end, Bahrke, along with the rest of the Olympic medalists, were happy to have what they thought of as the chance of a lifetime.
“I just want to thank everyone down there for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime and really giving us a first-class tour. It was really awesome,” Bahrke said.
“It was unlike anything I have ever done. How many skiers can ever say they’ve flown an F-16,” Wilson added.”It was a really fun trip.”