04/15/11 — Teacher of the Year gets ride with famed Thunderbirds crew

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Teacher of the Year gets ride with famed Thunderbirds crew

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 15, 2011 1:46 PM

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Scott Hardy, left, Wayne County Teacher of the Year, gets last-minute instructions from his Thunderbird pilot, Lt. Col. Jason Koltes, before the Hometown Hero flight Thursday afternoon.

Scott Hardy has had quite a year.

From being named Wayne County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, the Spring Creek High School history teacher and his wife, Skyler, are expecting their third child in August and have just learned it's going to be a boy, the first male child born into the family after a spate of 16 girls.

Capping it off came the news that he was chosen to fly with the Thunderbirds on their "Hometown Hero" flight Thursday.

"You can imagine my excitement," he said earlier this week. "This is really a dream. ... I'm knocking off my bucket list a whole lot faster than I planned to.

"It's the year of kismet, that's all I've got to say. I feel like I have really been blessed this year in particular."

The announcement conjured up all sorts of childhood memories for the educator.

"Every little boy from the time they're little -- basically when you grow up at the Seymour Johnson runway and you stare up at the F-15 -- you think, 'I wish I could fly one of those,'" he said.

He can recall watching the planes fly over his house on the outskirts of LaGrange in the community of Jason.

So to find himself suited up and standing on the flightline late Thursday afternoon was almost beyond his comprehension.

"This is a dream to actually experience the G forces, the actual acceleration of this engineering wonder, just to get up there and do that is a dream to me," he said. "To work with the airmen and Thunderbirds is an honor.

"They're rock star famous. It's just an honor that I was chosen."

Hardy actually found out in January that he was on the short list if everything from his physical checked out.

Arriving for the hour-long flight, he was given the "royal treatment," he said. Capt. Kendall Chudy of Seymour Johnson served as his liaison, with Lt. Col. Jason Koltes from the Thunderbirds piloting the plane.

"I got a plaque with my name on it and a picture that all the Thunderbirds signed," he said. "My name was on the window (of the plane), etched there like the co-pilot. I was about ready to cry. ... It was far beyond anything I even expected it to be."

The entire trip was also recorded for him, so he plans to share the experience with his students, he said.

"It was wonderful," he said soon afterward. "This is a once-in-a-million-lifetime opportunity because that's about the odds of having it happen. That's how appreciative I was."

Describing the flight plan, he said they flew from Goldsboro to just past New Bern to Cape Lookout. As a history teacher, he especially appreciated seeing the lighthouses, he said, taking advantage of the opportunity to share a little history lesson with his pilot.

"We banked where they do a lot of maneuvers in Dare County," he continued. "We pulled 9.3 G's -- the amount of speed coupled by gravity -- (it) caused my weight to be 9.3 times what I currently weigh, I would say like 1,800 pounds. That's how much weight is exerted."

He couldn't speculate on how fast they traveled, except that it was "just short of the speed of sound, you could feel the acceleration."

"When you're flying, you feel the pull but it was nothing like you would imagine, very smooth," he said.

He was exhilarated, not nervous, over the actual flight, he said. But in the case for full disclosure, admitted he had some trepidation about getting sick.

"I did not throw up," he said later, relieved.

There was one unique irony about the flight, Hardy pointed out. His pilot, Jason's Thunderbird number is 7. For Hardy, who grew up in the Jason community and a member of the volunteer fire department, his number was 7.

The good fortune continued when Koltes instructed Hardy on some of the finer points of flying, allowing him to take over the controls for a short while. Then, on the return trip, the pilot capped off the trip with a personalized feat.

"We buzzed Jason, kind of dove down and of course my mother was not in the yard to see it," Hardy said.

Flying over the homestead where he grew up was especially poignant.

For it was there that he had once stood as a small lad, looking up as planes flew over, only imagining one day he might be seated in the cockpit.

And while that day may have come and gone, it promises to live long in his mind and heart.

"I will be in the air for days," he said. "It's just amazing what they can do with those machines."