Top guns Miller, Rahlves fly high with Colorado Air National GuardThere was no beachhead by Austrian insurgents. No wild-eyed Norwegian zealots got through. That was the report as dusk fell Nov. 17 over Colorado. Novice (and honorary) combat pilots Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves had helped make the Front Range (and large chunks of other terrain) safe for democracy and alpine racing.
In a promotional event arranged with the Air National Guard, Miller and Rahlves flew in an F-16 fighter jet for an hour; they took the controls at various times and did their own version of barrel rolls and loop the loops, in addition to flying close to Mach 1 (Colorado is a Mach-free zone, so they weren’t allowed to hit about 650 miles an hour – but they had fun at whatever speed they did hit.)
Major Craig ‘Lobo’ Wolf, who flew with Miller, advised, ‘You guys are used to high speed, but it’s a little different in the F-16′ which goes 800 mph or more. ‘The Hahnenkamm doesn’t compare to this’ Rahlves, the 2003 downhill winner and ’04 super G champ in Kitzbuehel, said with a big smile after completing his flight. ‘I was more nervous before we got going than when we were flying. I didn’t know what to expect.’ He flew with Lieutenant Colonel Curt Hughes, who flies for United Air Lines in addition to his guard flights.
Miller called the F-16, which was brought in from South Dakota because the 120th Fighter Squadron at Buckley AFB near Denver flies only one-seaters, ‘quite a performance machine.’ He said there were some similarities to the high-speed racing of the World Cup, but noted, ‘except in ski racing we don’t have a throttle’ to really give it the gun. He laughed as he recounted the slow progress he made in trying to gain speed at one point. ‘I flew it twice, but I don’t count the first time, about five minutes, because it was so lame … and then I did about 10 minutes. I did this long barrel roll and some other stuff … pretty cool.’
They flew slightly different routes. A snow squall delayed their flight by about an hour, so Miller and Wolf had a routine takeoff and, although they found patches of broken clouds, they couldn’t fly over the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek. An hour later, Rahlves – who took off and went into a steep climb immediately – got to go over the course, scene of the Visa Birds of Prey races Dec.1-4; ‘Oh, yeah I saw Burntski [wax tech Brian Burnett] down there on the course’ he laughed.
The flights were expected to yield promotional and recruiting benefits for the Air Guard. Both athletes were tickled with their experience, but, as 32-year-old Rahlves noted, ‘I’d like to be a pilot on one of these, but I think I’m too old.”