The Heat Has Blistering Effects On Pilots At SAFB

Official temperatures for Wichita Falls are recorded out at Sheppard Air Force base. Most days this summer, those temperatures during the hotter part of the day have been above 105 degrees. But inside planes - temperatures get much higher. This creates blistering conditions for pilots like Major Rick Shaffer.

Major Rick "Tracer" Shaffer said, "Because it's so hot, we don't shut the canopy until right before we take off. Ambient temperatures inside and sitting on the tarmac, might be 110 degrees outside, but add another 10 to 15 degrees to that on the inside of that plane."

The flight suit and helmet covers the pilot from head to toe. Add that to the heat and your creating a dangerous situation for pilots

"We have to really maintain hydration. It's very important to stay in shape and drink plenty of fluids."

Major Shaffer flies in a T-38 fighter jet that's used to train pilots.

Inside the plane, there is one small air conditioning vent. Shaffer says it helps a little once the plane gets high enough in the sky. But the extreme heat like we've had this summer can make it difficult for the plane to ever get there.

Shaffer said, "When it's really hot, the plane doesn't have as much lift, because the increased molecules expand and keeps it from lifting as easily and the engine decreases in performance."

Shaffer said on more than one occasion this summer, heat prevented them from taking off and pilot training had to be suspended.

Even though the heat is a problem; it's also something that can be good for pilots in training.

"It's part of the way we train we're training pilots to fly all over the world, heat and cold. Fortunately here in Wichita Falls, is pretty awesome for giving us hot and cold."

Staff at Sheppard Air Force base told me that I needed to experience this for myself by getting an incentive flight on board the T-38 fighter jet with Major Shaffer. Before I could go up, I would have to go through some quick training.

My first stop was at the medical center for a physical to make sure my body could survive the flight. The next day, I got fitted for my flight suit, helmet, mask, and parachute.

Then it was onto a quick safety course and some instructions on how to eject from the plane if needed.

Before we could fly, Major Shaffer gave a quick over view on where we'd be flying and some of the things we'd be doing once in the air. Next was a quick bus ride to the flight line and onto the plane.

First an inspection of the plane to make sure everything was in place. Then up the ladder and into the cockpit. Strapped up, helmet on, time to leave.

We taxied to the run way around 10:40 in the morning. Temperatures outside the plane were already near 100. But on the inside, it was much hotter, especially after the canopy was closed.

As soon as the runway was clear it was time to take off! The plane quickly raced down the runway reaching speeds of 300mph before we lifted off.

The plane got faster and once we reached 500mph, the pilot turned the plane straight up into the sky.

We went from around 1000 feet to 16000 feet in what seemed like a matter of seconds.

Once up this high, we turned upside down! An amazing feeling. The flight was fast and furious, pulling what pilots called "g's" or when gravity increases, pushing you down with added weight, making your body feel it's being crushed.

We flew for about an hour doing flips and rolls, before landing back at the Sheppard Air Force base.

It was quite an experience, one that I will never forget. We went 5.6 g's. It's just incredible the amount of force that pushes against your body. Needless to say, I did get sick, especially when we were coming back in for the landing. It certainly was a lot of fun.

- Skywarn 6 Chief Meteorologist Ken Johnson