Top Gundy

MIDWEST CITY - Before the Boeing FA-18 Hornet started its explosive engines there was plenty of picture taking on the tarmac at Tinker Air Force Base. The Navy's famed Blue Angels flight demonstration team is in Oklahoma to perform this weekend at the Star Spangled Salute Air Show. Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy applied and was accepted to take a VIP ride with the Blue Angels.

While the preflight picture taking was going on U.S. Marine Corps Major Nathan Miller noticed three boys, all with blond hair and all looking very similar to his upcoming passenger. Miller, the Blue Angels pilot who would fly the Cowboy head coach, looked at Kristen Gundy, Mike's wife, and said, "You've got three boys, excuse me, I mean four boys at home. You must be some lady."

She is, she's the head coach's wife that had a pretty simple response for her husband when he first told her he was going flying with the Blue Angels.

"No," said Kristen to the simple question of what she said when Mike first told her of the planned flight. "At first, I thought he was kidding and then when I could tell he was serious about filling out the application I just asked him not to. It's really neat to watch them from the ground, but I really don't want to watch you up there. He said, 'it's not like I'm flying the plane.' It was a once in a lifetime chance for him to do it and I think I'm better with it now," she added before the flight.

"She was concerned like any mother and wife would be," said Mike Gundy of his wife. "She obviously wants me to do what I want to do."

In this case Kristen couldn't stop the male testosterone from taking over and while Mike was ready to go, sons Gavin, Gunnar, and Gage were all pretty excited about dad's ride as well.

"They're excited and this is really neat for them because they get to come out here and take a picture in front of the Blue Angel (jet)," said Gundy of his sons. "Not many people get to do that, so they are very excited about it."

"They think it is the coolest thing ever," said Kristen of the boys. "My oldest (Gavin, 10) is a little worried because he is old enough to understand how fast they go and he's been reading up on them on the Internet. The other two are just excited to see airplanes."

After the picture taking was over Mike Gundy climbed into the rear seat of the Hornet, looking very much the part with the aviator helmet on, and after getting a final briefing from the plane's captain (mechanic), Maj. Miller joined him. The two rear engines ignited, all the plane's components and flaps were checked and the ride was on. The powerful jet left the runway quick and after zooming just above the concrete launched into a 45 degree climb that looked more like 80 degrees from the ground. For the next 55 minutes Mike Gundy got the best ride man has ever conceived.

"I'm not a big roller coaster guy, but there is nothing that can explain being in that plane and going fast and pulling 7.3 G's," said Gundy. "It's like when people ask you if you've ever been to Boone's (Pickens) and what it's like. You kind of have to go to see what it is really like. You have to go up in one of there planes to see what it is like. All the maneuvers are fascinating but just being up there flying when he hits those after-burners and that military speed they took about is as good as it gets."

The flight path took a southern route first finishing off somewhere near Chickasha and then headed north where witnesses, including Cowboys radio play-by-play voice Dave Hunziker, many of the OSU football support staff, and other Stillwater residents saw Miller and Gundy zip by. The pass in Stillwater was at about 1,500 feet (500 yards) off the deck (ground) and included some rolls and some upside down flying.

It was a view of Boone Pickens Stadium that Gundy, needless to say, had never had before. On the way back Gundy was allowed to fly the plane, roughly from Stillwater to Lake Arcadia near Edmond. Flying time during Gundy's piloting of the FA-18 was probably a total of five minutes or less. Maj. Miller said they were going just more than 700 miles per hour (maximum speed for the aircraft is 1,400 miles per hour). Then Maj. Miller brought the bright blue plane with yellow markings in for the landing back at Tinker.

The base is just a couple of miles from Midwest City High School, where Mike grew up and guided the football Bombers to the 1985 state championship. As the jet taxied back to its original starting position outside base operations Gundy looked none the worse for wear. He was still giving thumbs up and bounced down the planes ladder and didn't wobble a bit when he touched back on the concrete.

Many guest passengers on Blue Angels VIP rides black out from the G-force, get sick and vomit, or lose their balance and need time to gain it back. Cowboy fans can be proud that their head coach and former record-setting quarterback that he did none of those. In fact, he and Miller had a chatty flight.

"He did a great job. Obviously as an athlete he has that advantage," said Maj. Miller. "We were kind of joking in the cockpit that we'll see what your strength coach has done for you, and he did good. He pulled 7.3 G's. He did a great job and we had a whole lot of fun. I was looking back in the mirror and he was hanging in there the whole time."

"I think if you relax and go with it you're fine," said Gundy. "From what I know now I think there could be some issues, but it was a whole lot of fun. The surprising thing to me was the he (Miller) was able to talk about all these things he was doing. Pulling those G's and talking to me like he wasn't doing anything. I don't know how his body can do that, but it is what he does for a profession. He did let me fly the plane and told me how to read the instruments. It's just like Top Gun, it's all the stick and moving it up and down. It's all right there. That was quite a thrill for me to fly it."

There were a few more pictures and hugs all the way around for the Gundy boys, and yes, for mom Kristen. Yes, and for awhile Mike was flying the plane.

"It turned out great, and now I'm glad he went," said Kristen.

So is Mike, and I don't think Kristen heard him when he said he'd do it again.

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