Most people think of Tom Cruise when they think about fighter pilots for entertainment purposes, since he flew to stardom on the heels of his hit movie “Top Gun,” and he has not come back down to earth since at the box office. But in the world of military defense, the real top gun appears to be an Air Force fighter jet pilot by the name of Captain Craig “Rocket” Baker, according to this July 29 Department of Defense news release.
The Shaw Air Force base’s F-16 Viper Demo Team pilot, the first of his family to join the military, spent years in rigorous training and educational efforts to become a United States Air Force pilot, which included pilot training, land and combat survival training, as well as the basic F-16 course and an introduction to fighter fundamentals. Once he achieved that goal, however, the military had a new plan for him: promotion to the Viper Demo Team, a position that essentially makes him the face of the Air Force fighter pilot globally. It’s a high honor and one that “Rocket” does not seem to take lightly.
It’s not the typical flying we do day-to-day here at Shaw,” Baker said. Instead, “the demo profile is a crusher, for sure.”
The demands on the physical body required to fly the Viper Demo program in the air by Baker far exceeds that of the average pilot, even that of the fighter pilots, as this type of flying requires all kinds of flying activity done repeatedly, at excessive speeds and turns. For example, Capt. Baker says that when a demonstration pilot is in the air flying, his heart generally drops about four inches, and because he is sitting in a cockpit blood pools in his elbows. But that’s not all, as one’s head tends to weigh about nine times more than it does when sitting on earth, he says, due to the G-forces he encounters in the air at that speed. And that makes his neck hurt.
With that kind of physical demand on the body, not to mention the rigorous physical workouts required each week in order to be qualified to continue flying such flights, one might wonder why any pilot would want to fly such extreme missions globally just to educate the public on what today’s fighter jets can do–and to recruit future pilots for the American military. According to Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Smith, being on the Viper Demo Team is “very prestigious”. But that’s not what motivates “Rocket”.
It’s what I always wanted to do,” Baker said, as far back as when he was just a kid.
Capt. Craig “Rocket” Baker may be the new face of the Shaw Air Force Base’s F-16 Viper Demo Team, and he may inspire other young men to join his ranks by enlisting in the Air Force as a pilot-want-to-be, but he still makes time to be a family man, too, according to his wife. And, who knows, one day soon he may be asked to assist Hollywood on their latest venture if the DoD is agreeable: A “Top Gun 2” sequel with Tom Cruise climbing back into a fighter jet for filming purposes–if he can handle the blood-pooling in the elbows, of course.