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Pro motorcycle riders get orientation flights in Gulfport

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tina Maddock
  • 178 FW Public Affairs
"I can remember as a child, whenever the troops were deployed or came out for training, the F-4 Phantom shaking the windows in my house really early in the morning," said Josh Hayes. "I spent hours standing at the fence at the end of the flightline watching the planes," Mr. Hayes said.
For some, the desire to be a pilot comes at an early age. After watching the F-4 Phantom and later F-16 Fighting Falcon take off and land near his home, which was located a quarter-mile away from Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Miss., Mr. Hayes said he had a desire to fly.
Mr. Hayes and his wife, Melissa Paris-Hayes, professional motorcycle riders, got what Mrs. Paris-Hayes called "the chance of a lifetime" Feb. 17 when they were able to take orientation flights in F-16s and learn about the mission of the Air National Guard and 178th Fighter Wing.
Maj. Bernie Willis, an instructor pilot for the 178 FW, said Mr. Hayes's position as a top premier rider in the super-bike class, a National Guard-sponsored series, and Mrs. Paris-Hayes's position as the fastest woman riding a road race machine in the United States is part of what brings the couple the notoriety to qualify for an orientation flight.
There is more to an orientation flight than just flying, however, participants must be trained and qualified.
In order to be a backseat passenger in an F-16, each had to get fitted for equipment, complete egress training, cockpit familiarization training, go over emergency procedures, and get cleared by the flight surgeon, said Major Willis.
"They come away knowing that not only is the ground training difficult, the air training is difficult... they also got a chance to talk to some of the maintenance folks to get an understanding of just how much work goes into the aircraft," said Major Willis.
"The training they gave us just to sit in the back seat gives you an appreciation for how hard everyone is working, and how hard what they do is," said Mrs. Paris-Hayes.
Prior to the flight there was an issue with the jet that Mrs. Paris-Hayes was set to ride in. "When Melissa's aircraft broke," said Major Willis, "she got to see how quickly those guys can come out clear a possible problem and get the plane to blast off and go fly."
Those who qualify for F-16 orientation flights get a chance to have an experience few others can share.
"I got to do something that I've dreamed about since childhood," said Mr. Hayes. "I was told pretty early that I didn't have good eyesight and that it would be a limiting factor in me becoming a pilot," said Mr. Hayes. "I think I found the next best thing, which was racing a motorcycle."
Not only do orientation flights provide a chance to make dreams come true, but they also have the ability to spread the mission of the 178 FW and the ANG.
"These guys in particular are around a crowd of young people daily that they can spread the word to; a lot of the recruiting we do in the Guard is because of word of mouth," said Major Willis. "The people they are typically around are highly-motivated, very well hand-eye coordinated, typically in very good shape and they are perfect candidates for the military," Major Willis said.
For the 178 FW, the ability to attract recruits and fulfill dreams is a benefit the Air National Guard receives from giving orientation flights. These flights are often a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the riders and a valuable tool for the 178th.