October 17, 2011 (by TSgt. Alice Moore) - Driving up to 240 miles per hour is normal for an IndyCar driver. However, while gearing up for his next race, one particular IndyCar driver was given the opportunity to go even faster in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Capt. Nicholas Holmes, a slot pilot assigned to the Air Demonstration Squadron - the Thunderbirds, and IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand take off in a F-16D at Nellis AFB on October 11th, 2011. [USAF photo by SSgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.]
JR Hildebrand, driver of the #4
car, is sponsored by the National Guard and was given the opportunity to fly in the back seat of an F-16 with the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, also known as the Thunderbirds, Oct. 11, 2011.
"I'm pretty excited about this," Hildebrand said. "I've always been an adrenalin junkie, so this was high on my list to be able to jump into a fighter jet. It's just the 'bee's knees' to be able to come here and do this with the Thunderbirds."
In preparation for his flight, Hildebrand received several hours of training from his pilot, Thunderbird #4
, Capt. Nicholas Holmes, along with other Thunderbird team members.
Prior to stepping to the aircraft, Hildebrand said he definitely appreciated all of the effort to ensure he was ready to fly.
"It's obviously pretty intense going through all the training," Hildebrand said. "It's been sort of neat, in its own way, just having that feeling that you do have some preparation going into the whole gig rather than just jumping into a plane. I can't wait to just get up and get going."
After about an hour flight and getting the chance to go up to about 750 miles per hour, Thunderbird #4
and Hildebrand landed safely. The IndyCar driver said the experience of his flight was memorable.
"It was crazy just seeing everything the plane can do and how precise it is," Hildebrand said. "It's really impressive to see what the plane and pilots can do together and this experience absolutely exceeded my expectations. It was just unbelievable."
Holmes said the experience to fly the other "#4
" was a memorable experience.
"It was such a thrill to show the other #4
how our team works," Holmes said. "It's always an honor to be able to showcase the pride, professionalism and teamwork embodied by America's Airmen every day."
Prior to leaving the Thunderbird Hangar, Hildebrand said he was impressed with the entire Thunderbird team.
"This is obviously something that requires a lot of talent and skill, to fly the planes, but also the commitment and professionalism of the flight crews," he said. "As a young American guy, it's a really cool thing to see our Armed Forces in action. It really drives it home, knowing they are out there fighting for our freedom."
After spending time racing BMX and mountain bikes, Hildebrand began racing go-carts at the age of 14. From there, the 23-year-old Sausalito, Calif., native eventually made his debut racing at IndyCar events. He is currently in his rookie season and came to Las Vegas to compete in the IZOD Indy Car World Championships.