Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Kelly Clark and two-time Olympic alpine skier Stacey Cook took their talents to the sky Tuesday with the U.S. Navy. During the duos visit to the Fallon Naval Air Station, their boards and skis were replaced with a bit larger piece of machinery; a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet. The trip was organized by the U.S. Navy as a way for the athletes to share their Olympic experiences with the sailors and families.
Although the girls were not able to command their traditional spins and smooth manuevering in the skies that they are used to on powder, the pair of Olympians were able to sit back and thoroughly enjoy an hour and a half flight, riding with pilots who were matched up with each of their personalities. The athletes-gone-co-pilots experienced a new kind of speed, the speed of sound that is, getting up to 6 Gz of force and topping out at 40,000 feet! This pressure is equal to six times their own body weight, a.k.a. that “stomach in your throat” kind of feeling.
“As G forces increase your blood drains from your brain (this can make you pass out) and I had to start firing my muscles in my calves working up to my glutes to keep my blood circulating and air exchanging into my lungs” tells 2002 Olympic halfpipe gold medalist Clark after her experience in the aircraft. “We did two loops and that was awesome. I felt pretty normal and I think being an athlete really helped and make it easier for me to withstand the flight. It was pretty exhausting.”
During the two-day session the athletes went through a condensed Aviation Physiology and Survival Training session, spoke to and shared stories with sailors stationed at the base, and spent time with the families at the base team center. Here they are seen swapping experiences and signing autographs with Navy members at an on-base cafe.
Their hand-picked pilots were members of the U.S. Navy Strike Department, which trains Carrier Wings in preparation for deployment into combat; a highly prestigious and integral job in the Navy.
In a matter of only 10-15 seconds the aircrafts they were co-piloting reached 180 mph and were able to fly by Mammoth Mountain,CA (Cook’s Hometown), in addition to performing a “carrier break” at the Fallon Air Station tower as well as other maneuvers. A carrier break is a turn done at high speeds in which the pilot will drive beyond the landing strip for another mile or so, and perform a full loop back around at a sharp angle in order to land; surely to make any theme park roller coaster ride look like Driving Miss Daisy.
Two time Olympic alpine skier and member of the best in the world U.S. women downhill team Stacey Cook (seen below suiting up for flight) shares her experience by telling “This flight was the only thing I’ve ever experienced that is above the level of intensity and adrenaline you get in racing downhill. As athletes, we’re incredibly tuned to what our bodies are doing while competing. But during this flight, there were so many times where I had no idea where we were in space.”
Making reference to the classic flight film, Cook added “It was incredible just hanging out with the pilots. These guys are “Top Gun” instructors. They’re the top of the top – just being around them was similar to the feeling you get at the start of a downhill. It’s an intense place, but when someone cracks a joke, the whole place explodes with laughter.”
Rear Admiral Mark A. Vance of the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center was impressed with the way Kelly And Stacey held themselves together, in spite of being way out of their usual element. “Having these two Olympians visit NSAWC was an incredible experience for me and the Sailors under my command” Vance commented after the athletes visit. “These two remarkable women demonstrate a similar focus and work ethic the Navy demands of its people. It was a real privilege to meet them.”
Credit to Olivia Giger and Sharon Cook from SmugMug for the photos.