As a recipient of an aerospace engineering degree, Joshua Dobbs is all too familiar with Newton’s third law of motion.
He just didn’t expect it to be such a jarring part of his flight training for a trip with the Air Force Thunderbirds.
What goes up must come down — even an F-16 jet — as the Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback learned while prepping for his April flight with the famed military pilots.
“If you have to eject, this is how you operate the parachute, and if the parachute doesn’t open before 10,000 feet, this is what you have to do,” Dobbs said Wednesday. “I’m like, I just want to go up, get a picture and come back down.”
Dobbs laughed at his joke. Thankfully, his flight had a smooth takeoff and landing, fulfilling a dream for the third-year quarterback who longs to someday work for NASA or Pratt & Whitney, a manufacturer of aircraft engines for the U.S government.
“An experience of a lifetime,” is how Dobbs described it on social media after completing the flight.
Dobbs throws passes for a living, but he couldn’t resist taking a few passes across the skyline with the Thunderbirds. Such is his love for space that Dobbs has the following Paul Brandt quote written on his Instagram page: “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”
Partial credit for the trip should go to another athlete familiar with traveling at high speeds: retired NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
Dobbs was serving a three-week internship in February 2018 at Fanatics, an online sportswear retailer. A trip to the Daytona 500 was on the docket, and Dobbs got to rub elbows with Gordon. Dobbs was invited to a private suite where among the guests were the Thunderbird pilots who had performed the pre-race flyover.
Turned out that some of the pilots were Florida football fans and remembered Dobbs from his four years as Tennessee’s quarterback and his aerospace engineering background.
“They said, ‘We’d love to have you fly with us,’ ” Dobbs said. “I said, ‘Hey, wherever you are, I’ll meet you there.’ ”
The Thunderbirds performed last summer at the Westmoreland County Air Show, the event coinciding with the opening of Steelers training camp across Route 30 from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport at Saint Vincent.
Dobbs, however, couldn’t get his schedule to mesh with the Thunderbirds, so the flight was postponed until the offseason.
In April, Dobbs received the invitation to fly with the group prior to an air show in Waco, Texas. A camera crew from Sports Illustrated was brought along to document Dobbs flight as part of its “24 Hours With” video series.
Before Dobbs could go up in the air, he had to pass a crammed certification process. He began his crash course at 7 a.m on a Saturday when he received his anti-gravity suit and mask. He was drilled on safety procedures, hence the ejection protocol, and tutored on the flight profile.
“You’ve got to get certified quickly to be able to go up,” Dobbs said. “It was a pretty extensive process.”
Because of some heavy cloud coverage, Dobbs said the flight was pushed back until the afternoon, which led to his biggest mistake. With some time to kill and only a light breakfast in his stomach, Dobbs headed to a vending machine.
His snack of choice? A bag of Cheetos.
“I was starving,” Dobbs said.
Once airborne, Dobbs said his pilot made several passes over the airfield without fanfare. Then, he did a 9-G turn, a maneuver that is nine times the force of gravity.
“He rolls the plane and does a U-turn,” Dobbs said. “Imagine the force of stopping a plane, going and the jolt of the engine. You experience 9 to 9.1 Gs. That’s the one that gets people blacking out.”
Dobbs didn’t black out. But he did throw up a little while later.
“He rolls the plane really hard four times, then he rolls it slow to the left,” Dobbs said. “That got me.”
Out came the Cheetos. Dobbs, though, was happy he projected his snack into a bag rather than all over the canopy.
“It was all orange,” Dobbs said. “Probably not the prettiest sight.”
Other than that mishap, it was smooth flying for Dobbs.
For his next adventure, Dobbs has been invited to attend a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The launch is scheduled for early July, a few weeks before the Steelers report to training camp.
“I hear this one is going to the space station,” Dobbs said. “It should be pretty cool.”