July 25, 2009 (by Lieven Dewitte) - First Officer Jeff Skiles, co-pilot of the U.S. Airways flight that crash-landed in the Hudson River in January, took to the skies Thursday with the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron.
Jeff Skiles, co-pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 which crashed into the Hudson River in New York on January 15th, 2009, climbs into a US Air Force Thunderbird F-16 in preparation for his flight with the team on July 23rd, 2009.
"Of all the things I have been involved with since the accident, this has got to be the top," said Skiles, who has been inundated with fan mail, media attention and has even spoken in front of the Federal Aviation Administration twice. "It was an honor for me to fly with the Thunderbirds. I salute every one of you for what you do for our country."
Skiles was chosen for the flight as part of a new Thunderbird initiative, the Hometown Hero Program. The team selects people from all walks of life - police officers, firemen, school teachers and more, to receive an orientation flight in a red, white and blue Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon.
"The team started the Hometown Hero program as a way to salute people who are doing amazing things in their communities, much like the 700,000 Airmen who are doing amazing things for America across the globe," said Capt. Jason McCree, the Thunderbirds Public Affairs Officer.
After several safety briefings and flight equipment fittings, Skiles stepped to the F-16 waiting on the flight line at the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was flown by Lt. Col. Derek Routt, Thunderbirds Operations Officer, who has more than 2,000 flight hours.
"Mr. Skiles was simply doing his job when Flight 1549 went down. However, thanks to his split-second reactions and calm response under emergency conditions, there was no loss of life," said Colonel Routt. "I am honored to fly this American hero."
The Thunderbirds are participating in the Milwaukee Air and Water Show, which is scheduled this weekend at the Milwaukee Lakefront.