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Country music star flies with Arizona Guard

Country Thunder U.S.A. performing artist Joe Nichols gets ready to board an F-16D on the flightline here, April 17. The orientation flight was organized in support of the Arizona National Guard’s partnership with the Country Thunder concert series that made a stop in Florence, Ariz., April 17-20. The concert, and celebrity orientation flight, drew national attention to the Arizona National Guard, increasing awareness while enhancing recruiting efforts. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

Country Thunder U.S.A. performing artist Joe Nichols gets ready to board an F-16D on the flightline here, April 17. The orientation flight was organized in support of the Arizona National Guard’s partnership with the Country Thunder concert series that made a stop in Florence, Ariz., April 17-20. The concert, and celebrity orientation flight, drew national attention to the Arizona National Guard, increasing awareness while enhancing recruiting efforts. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

F-16 pilot, Capt. Jason Lewis (right) checks on Joe Nichols before his orientation flight with the 162nd Fighter Wing.

F-16 pilot, Capt. Jason Lewis (right) checks on Joe Nichols before his orientation flight with the 162nd Fighter Wing.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The 162nd Fighter Wing flew country music recording artist Joe Nichols in an F-16 Fighting Falcon from Tucson International Airport Thursday, April 17. 

The orientation flight highlighted the Arizona National Guard's partnership with Country Thunder U.S.A., the country music festival held in Florence, Ariz., April 17-20. Joe Nichols, a concert series headliner, suited up for a ride in a high performance fighter jet to raise awareness and recruitment for the Arizona National Guard and its missions. 

Nichols began his fighter pilot experience early in the morning with a flight physical and equipment fitting. After receiving his issued flight gear, he reported for egress training to learn safety procedures for his back-seat ride. After a brief F-16 simulator ride and a mission briefing with his pilot, Capt. Jason "Rico" Lewis, the two 'stepped' to the aircraft. 

"I was so excited I should have skipped to the plane instead of walking," said Nichols. "I gave Rico a warning that I was going to say stupid and corny things like 'awesome' and 'cool' during the flight." 

"Then taking off was like 'welcome to the air...' get ready," he said. "Once we were up there, I pulled nine G's. Wow!" 

Captain Lewis, noted after the flight that Nichols was "a natural." 

"People use the term 'sea legs' for those who are comfortable on a boat. You could say in Joe's case, he's got 'air legs.' He did great," said Lewis. "We had a great time. It was a pleasure showing him what we do for a day." 

"It was an amazing ride, and Rico is an amazing pilot," said Joe who witnessed up close an aerial refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 161st Aerial Refueling Wing. 

"My job is easy compared to this. I felt like a peon up there. These guys are so precise. It is amazing." 

Nichols completed his ride in just over an hour and was escorted to the base auditorium where he accepted a framed certificate from Lewis to commemorate the experience before a crowd of Guardsmen. 

"It was an honor to fly with the Guard," he said. "Thank you for the opportunity, and more importantly, thank you for defending our country." 

"My set tonight in Country Thunder is an hour and half," said Nichols who was due in Florence the same evening to kick off the event. "I might have to take a nap on the way up there."

Editors Note: CMT, the country music cable network, followed Joe Nichols and the 162nd Fighter Wing members who assisted him during his visit for broadcast on the national network. The coverage will air in a future edition of CMT Insider, the weekend country music magazine show. Check your local listings for upcoming episodes.