TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — The best moment for Solano County Deputy Jackson Harris came when Maj. Tyler Ellison flicked his agile, high-performance F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter over onto its back 16,000 feet over Northern California.
“Up until then, there was so much blue looking out the canopy, then it was the complete opposite,” Harris said of the maneuver that put him upside down over Earth. “It was outstanding, the best of the best.”
Harris was one of the lucky people chosen to fly with one of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds on Thursday when the premiere aerial demonstration team came to Travis to get ready for this weekend’s Thunder Over Solano air expo and open house.
Harris was chosen earlier this year as the 2013 Deputy of the Year by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office for his eight years of hard work and dedication as a patrol officer, bailiff and Coroner’s Office detective. He got the word last month that he was going to be the recipient of the Thunderbird’s Hometown Hero program.
The idea behind the program is to both honor hometown heroes such as Harris for their service to their community and to promote the Thunderbirds’ mission.
“He has been grinning from ear to ear,” said one of the deputies who came with him Thursday to Travis.
His family also came with him as he went through a series of briefings to prepare him for the flight and got suited up.
Five-year-old Brody Harris pointed excitedly to the aircraft carrying his father and piloted by Thunderbirds Operations Officer Ellison as it shot up off the runway, saying, “He’s up there!”
Not to be outdone, 4-year-old Jack Harris proudly said his father was “going halfway to the moon!”
When Harris landed and was greeted by his kids, Jack Harris asked his father if he had made it to outer space, with Jackson Harris replying he at least got to “a little bit of outer space.”
Ellison had nothing but praise for his passenger.
“It was a truly exceptional experience to take him up,” Ellison said.
The pilot pointed out that Harris’ fortitude allowed Ellison to put the F-16 through all its paces and the maneuvers it will be going through during this weekend’s air expo.
Harris was presented not only with a photo signed by the entire team, but also shook hands with all the Thunderbirds present.
“It was such an honor to come out today,” Harris said. “It was the chance of a lifetime and I am never going to forget this.”
Harris said he prepared for the flight the best he could, watching what he ate the day before and praying that he wouldn’t get sick or black out.
Prior to Thursday’s flight, the closest Harris said he had ever come to this “was flying on Southwest Airlines.”
When the F-16 took off, Harris said it felt like “an insane amount of pressure” and that he had to remember how to keep breathing properly to keep from blacking out.
When Harris and his family come back this weekend for the air expo, he will have the pleasure of knowing while watching the Thunderbirds performing that he was able to share the sky with them.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.