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Video: NFL star flies with US Air Force Thunderbirds near Las Vegas

Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo flies with the USAF Thunderbirds (Team Whistle/USAA)
August 29, 2023

Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo recently traded NFL “game-day jitters” for a whole new kind of pressure, flying in an F-16 with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds near Las Vegas, Nevada.  

During a visit to Nellis Air Force Base, Garoppolo trained with the Thunderbirds to take on 9G’s as part of Team Whistle’s “I Could Do That” series, presented by USAA.

“Just coming [to Nellis Air Force Base], there’s a sense of pride that you feel. That’s a sign of a good team,” Garoppolo said, referring to the “elite group of 135 of the most experienced members in the U.S. Air Force” that make up the Thunderbirds team.

The NFL star reached Mach 2 – roughly 1,500 MPH – in the skies near Sin City, “barreling through air combat maneuvers, and fighting to sustain consciousness under 2,000 pounds of pressure.”

The grandson of a Marine Corps veteran, Garoppolo was struck by the qualities shared between football players and fighter pilots.

“Preparation is everything, and the Thunderbirds [training] is very similar to being in the League,” Garoppolo said. “You get the best of the best at what they do. There’s an endless amount of possibilities in football, so you could prepare forever, but when you’re prepared, you don’t get that nervous feeling, you’re excited to put on display what you’ve been studying and what you’ve been working on.”

READ MORE: Virginia teacher selected as ‘Hometown Hero’ to fly with Thunderbirds ahead of Langley air show

Garoppolo’s flight was hosted by USAA, Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, as part of their “Salute to Service” initiative, which aims to foster “a greater understanding between current and former NFL players and our military.”

“The Thunderbirds perform for people all around the world to display the pride, precision and professionalism the U.S. Air Force represents,” the Thunderbirds’ website states. “Through air shows and flyovers, they aim to excite and inspire. In addition to showcasing the elite skills all pilots must possess, the Thunderbirds demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jet, the F-16 Fighting Falcon.”