VANDALIA – A Miami Valley native and former NFL football player received a homecoming on Monday that was beyond his wildest dreams.
Centerville native A.J. Hawk donned a uniform, not to play football, but to take the ride of his life. Hawk wore a United States Air Force flight suit and took to the skies with the USAF Thunderbirds.
The official goodwill ambassadors of the United States Air Force are in town to headline the 2017 Vectren Dayton Air Show next weekend. They arrived on Monday afternoon to begin a week of practice flights and visits to area venues.
Part of the Thunderbirds tradition is to offer a VIP flight to a deserving person. This year, the recipient of that flight was A.J. Hawk.
Hawk was born in Kettering and graduated from Centerville High School before going on to an outstanding football career as an Ohio State Buckeye. He was a first-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers where he played eight seasons. He went on to play one season each in Cincinnati and in Atlanta before retiring after last season.
Thunderbirds Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh had the honor of flying Hawk in one of the team’s two-seat versions of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
After Hawk was suited up, including a G-suit, he climbed aboard the F-16 and was strapped in. Once at the end of the active runway, Walsh kicked in full afterburner and the pair began an unrestricted maximum power climb to an altitude of 10,000 feet, which took all of five-to-six seconds.
Walsh said that the flight then went about 70 miles east to the Buckeye Military Operating Area where Hawk was given a look at some of the maneuvers the Thunderbirds team performs during shows around the world.
During the flight, which lasted around one hour, Hawk was subjected to 9Gs, nine times the force of gravity, during some of the maneuvers.
Following the air show maneuvers demonstration, the pair “did some sight-seeing and then came on home.”
Hawks reaction when he got back to the flight was, “I love it. You guys (the Thunderbirds) are amazing. Thanks for everything you do.It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Walsh, who is a native of New York, has been flying F-16s for more than a decade, including combat time. He received his training in the Fighting Falcon in Springfield, Ohio at the Ohio Air National Guard Base.
Among the places the Thunderbirds are scheduled to visit during the week are Carrillon Park, the Wright Brothers Cycle Shop, the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
The Thunderbirds will be performing both Saturday and Sunday at the 2017 Vectren Dayton Air Show. For tickets or more information, please visit www.daytonairshow.com