LAKE CHARLES, La. – LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri checked an item off of his “bucket list” Friday morning, when he flew with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in an F-16 fighter jet at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La.

Mainieri, the baseball coach at the United States Air Force Academy from 1989-94, reported to Chennault at 7 a.m. CT Friday, was fitted in a flight suit, attended briefings about the effects of G-forces and learned about flight and ejection procedures. He then met with his pilot, Major Scott Petz (call sign “Cheetah), and they took off at 10:30 a.m. CT for the 45-minute demonstration flight.

Mainieri, who coached 23 players at the Air Force Academy who became active pilots in the U.S. Air Force, was awed by the experience of the F-16 flight.

“I coached at the Air Force Academy, and I’ve talked to my former players who’ve become pilots about what they do, but until I climbed into that high-performance jet and see what they actually do; you just don’t get an appreciate for it until you’re actually up there,” Mainieri explained. “This was a joyride for me, but when you think about all of the brave men and women in the Air Force and the duties they have to perform on these flights while engaged in combat, it just blows my mind.”

Major Petz expressed gratitude to Mainieri for his participation in the flight.

“It was an honor to fly Coach this morning, and we’re very grateful for his support of the Air Force and our mission around the world,” Major Petz said. “We performed a series of maneuvers, including a loop, rolls and inverted flight. We had a great time and Coach did an awesome job.”

Mainieri expressed heartfelt appreciation for the selfless work of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Thank the good Lord for these people that are in our military and the things that they do for us,” Mainieri said. “We can enjoy the things that we do, like coach baseball games at LSU, because of the courageous men and women of our armed services. It was an awesome, amazing experience. I can’t imagine what it’s like in combat when it’s all on the line.”