Clovis resident describes Thunderbird flight as ‘ultimate roller coaster ride’
Clovis’ Ronnie Marez was the center of attention early Friday afternoon as members of the Thunderbirds prepped him for his “Hometown Hero” flight, which he earned in conjunction with this weekend’s Cannon Air Fore Base air show for his heroic effort early this year.
With the flight still two hours away, Marez was calm and focused, paying close attention to the instructions he was given. The only sign of nervousness was the continuous shaking of his left thumb.
link Staff photo: Tony Bullocks
Maj. Tyler Ellison, front, and Ronnie Marez head to the runway Friday to begin their flight an the F-16 Thunderbird. The Thunderbirds are featured in this weekend’s air show at Cannon Air Force Base.
All that could be heard was quick, short breaths as Marez and Thunderbirds Flight Surgeon Maj. Michael Carletti practiced how to breathe to combat the effect of G-forces on the body during an hour-long flight in which the pilot demonstrates the handling and speed of the aircraft.
Breathing exercises were just one of the many preparations Marez went through Friday afternoon. He was also shown all the elements of his flight suit and vest and told to be prepared to squeeze his leg and buttocks muscles to counteract the pressure of G-force, which is created when an object accelerates at a high rate of speed or changes direction.
Then the moment arrived.
Marez climbed into the cockpit of an F-16 and disappeared into the sky while his wife, daughter and mother waited anxiously on the ground for his return.
“It’s quite a rush for us, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for him up in that seat,” Darlene Marez said of her husband. “This is just the topping on top of everything. I’m just wondering how he’s doing with all of it.”
Marez’ family said that the honor was well deserved because Marez helps people all the time; it doesn’t matter who, when or where, he’ll be there, according to his wife.
“You call him any day; it doesn’t matter what time of day; he’s going to be there, always. Anyone in the family can depend on him. That’s just him. He just feels like that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
“I always make fun of him because everywhere he’s driving, he’s always looking on the side of the road, looking for deer or whatever he can see,” his wife added about Marez’ rescue of an elderly woman in January, which earned him the honor of a Thunderbirds flight. “So it didn’t surprise me he could see her (on the side of the road). He’s always looking at where he is and at his surroundings.”
And once again, the smile said it all as Marez climbed down from the jet an hour later.
Marez was beaming as his family cheered his return. He hugged his wife after shaking the hands of various Thunderbirds.
“It was awesome,” Marez said of his flight. “That’s all I can say is it was awesome.”
Marez said his favorite part of the flight was the pilot doing rolls with the jet.
“That was crazy,” he said of flying upside down. “It was a unique experience.”
link Staff photo: Tony Bullocks
Ronnie Marez shakes hands with a Thunderbirds maintenance crew member at the end of his flight.
As for pulling Gs, according to his pilot, Maj. Tyler Ellison, the two men reached seven and a half Gs (the highest being nine).
“We had a wonderful time flying,” Ellison told the crowd surrounding the aircraft. “Ronnie’s my type of flyer because once we pulled some Gs, he was like, that’s OK, we don’t need to do anymore.”
Marez said pulling Gs was scary but he is glad he had the experience.
“I don’t like roller coasters but this was the ultimate roller coaster ride,” Marez said, laughing. “I don’t know how they can handle it (every day) but these guys are awesome.”