LOCAL NEWS

Two Utah Olympians experience ride of a lifetime with Air Force Thunderbirds

Jun 24, 2022, 7:59 PM

CLEARFIELD, Utah — The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds gave a “Hometown Hero” ride of a lifetime to two of Utah’s Olympians Friday as final preparations are underway for this weekend’s Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show at Hill Air Force Base.

Freestyle skiers Ashley Caldwell and Justin Schoenefeld won the first ever mixed team aerials competition with teammate Chris Lillis at the Beijing Games this year, bringing home gold to Park City. But Friday, their training looked a lot different.

“This day started pretty early for Justin and Ashley — 7 a.m. they were here getting training on how to keep themselves safe in the F-16 while we’re flying around,” said Jake Imbellizzeri, pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The pre-flight training included information on how to deal with G-force speeds, as well as parachute operation.

“I was definitely nervous,” Caldwell said. “We train our whole lives in a really specific thing, and to put us out of our comfort zone is kind of rare. So this was definitely outside of our comfort zone, and also, we’re trying to live up to the gold medal standard and the Thunderbird standard and that’s a high bar.”

Being gold medalists, Caldwell and Schoenefeld are used to being in the air — just not strapped into a F-16, going 800 miles per hour.

“I was very nervous,” Schoenefeld. “Ashley got quiet when they started talking about ejection; she stopped talking for about a half hour.”

After three hours of pre-flight training, the pair were up for the challenge of flying with the Thunderbirds. Flying side by side, the pair jumped in the cockpit with two Thunderbird pilots and took off from Hill Air Force Base and headed to the West Desert.

“I had the controls for a while — did some rolls and did a back flip,” Caldwell said.

At one point, Schoenefeld and Caldwell hit 9G’s, breaking the sound barrier.

“I pulled .1 G more than Justin,” Caldwell said.

“But I’m heavier,” Schoenefeld replied. “The 9G’s is a lot no matter how you spin it.”

“We were about 400 knots by the end of the runway, which is about 500 mph, and we pulled straight up 90 degrees and the whole time she’s just giggling back there,” Imbellizzeri said.

9G’s is a lot for any person to feel, even Olympians. After the flight, Caldwell and Schoenefeld were creative when trying to describe it.

“It’s gotta be like a dragon mixed with a unicorn on top of a jet engine – something like that,” Caldwell laughed.

“It’s an elephant on your chest and your vision starts going away, then you squeeze more and it pops back. Unbelievable,” Schoenefeld added.

Flying with the Thunderbirds was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these Olympians, but if there is one moment that stands out, it’s when the pair were flying over the Bonneville Salt Flats towards the Great Salt Lake. With Caldwell on his wing, Schoenefeld pulled out his gold medal and showed it to the camera in the cockpit.

“The medal went past the speed of sound today, and that would be a first,” Schoenefeld said.

The two athletes said Friday is a day they’ll never forget.

“We cannot thank them enough. We’re so excited to be a part of this and grateful for their service and having us along,” Caldwell said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

...
Lauren Steinbrecher

Utah family takes in Ukrainian family fleeing war after meeting on social media

A family from southcentral Ukraine is now calling Utah their home after meeting a Utah couple online who were total strangers.
1 day ago
...
Carole Mikita

Thousands of Virginia Latter-day Saints celebrate the rededicated Washington D.C. Temple

On Sunday morning, thousands of Latter-day Saints filled the D.C temple grounds to be part of the rededication with President Russell M. Nelson.
1 day ago
...
Debbie Worthen

New KSL Podcast: Celebrating the Spectrum with Debbie Worthen

The KSL podcast lineup is getting a new show. "Celebrating the Spectrum" is a KSL original podcast that will drop weekly episodes every Monday morning featuring KSL TV's Debbie Worthen.
1 day ago
KSL TV...
Michael Houck

Three men facing disorderly conduct charges after staging a kidnapping for a YouTube video

Three men were charged with disorderly conduct after staging a kidnapping for their YouTube channel Saturday afternoon. 
1 day ago
FILE PHOTO...
Michael Houck

WVC Police search for drive-by shooting suspect, one victim in hospital

Police are searching for a shooting suspect after hospitalizing a man Sunday afternoon.
1 day ago
...
Michael Houck

Police investigate why man died after he was in police custody

Salt Lake City police are investigating the death of a robbery suspect after being placed in custody and sent to the hospital on Sunday.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
...
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...
AARP Utah

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Two Utah Olympians experience ride of a lifetime with Air Force Thunderbirds