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VAQ-129 Vikings to Open Game with Flyover

Navy Commander Brian "Steamer" Danielson has returned home this weekend to lead a flyover by the VAQ-129 Vikings before the Minnesota Vikings host the Green Bay Packers.

MINNEAPOLIS — *These Vikings *really know how to open a game — with 40,000 pounds of thrust powering U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers with logos of vikings on the tail.

Navy Commander Brian "Steamer" Danielson has returned home this weekend to lead a flyover by the VAQ-129 Vikings before the Minnesota Vikings host the Green Bay Packers.

The native of Kenyon, a town of less than 2,000 in southeast Minnesota, said his emotions will be, "Skol Vikings! Beat the Packers."

It will be the first flyover in which Com. Danielson has been involved in his home state since the remains of his father, Air Force Maj. Ben Danielson, were returned from Vietnam in 2007. Maj. Danielson was a fighter pilot who was shot down in December 1969.

"He was missing in action for 38 years. We found his remains and brought him home in 2007," Com. Danielson said. "A bunch of my squadron mates had a flyover for that service. It was a very special thing for me."

Despite the death of his father, Com. Danielson was drawn to the skies with his commitment to serve.

"It's a wonderful experience. It hooked me from the start," Com. Danielson said. "I really love the process of briefing, studying, doing those maneuvers and flying that airplane to the best of its ability. Getting to know that you are doing it for your country, to save other people and try to keep others safe, everything about it is a completely rewarding experience."

He said the EA-18G is used for electronic attack with equipment that can jam enemy radar and communication "to provide a sanctuary for aircraft or guys on the ground to protect them from the IED threat and from the surface-to-air missile threats."

"It's a very technical mission, and because of that, we also have to learn how to protect ourselves, so we learn the air-to-air mission and have a little bit of an air-to-ground mission as well," Com. Danielson said.

The VAQ-129 is a training squadron for the EA-18G that guides aviators who recently completed flight school through five phases of training that culminates with landing on an aircraft carrier, going 150 mph to 0 in less than two seconds.

"We take pilots who are brand new from flight school — they just got their shiny new wings, they're all happy and impressionable — and we give them five phases of training, which terminates at the aircraft carrier. The last thing they'll do is land this aircraft on the carrier at night for the first time they've ever done it. Once they graduate from that syllabus, they're off to deployments around the world as part of the country's objectives."

Com. Danielson, in his 22nd year of service, said the final task of the training is the "thrill of a lifetime" and he enjoys seeing young aviators advance. 

"There aren't too many old guys like me around anymore, but seeing the young guys and watching them gain confidence, taking them out of their comfort zone and getting to the place where they're comfortable or at least functioning, and to see that confidence that happens from being able to do it and say, 'I just landed on an aircraft carrier. It's not insurmountable,' " Com. Danielson said. "That's been the most rewarding part about being an instructor."

The takeoff from an aircraft carrier is also a thrill. A steam catapult system builds pressure underneath the deck of the carrier until a shuttle propels the jet from 0 to 150 mph in a little less than two seconds.

"You've got two seconds to decide if you've got enough push or not, and then you've got to hope that the engines are going to take over," Com. Danielson said. "Normally speaking, they give you a little extra slop so you can fly away, but that initial jolt is quite an acceleration going down the cat track there."

The two engines of the jets are capable of producing 10,000 pounds of thrust each, and afterburners add another 20,000.

"That's kind of nice to have," Com. Danielson said of the planes that can weigh between 50,000 and 60,000 pounds.

Squadron members who are normally stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, in Oak Harbor, Washington, landed EA-18G Growlers in Minnesota Saturday afternoon, capping a day of travel that began in Key West, Florida, where the aviators had been on a training mission. They stopped once for fuel in Birmingham, Alabama, then completed the second leg of the trip in about an hour-and-a-half, flying over snowy Iowa into sun-splashed Minneapolis. Danielson greeted squadron members with bomber jackets to help them adjust to the temperature drop.

The group included: Naval Aviator Lt. Denver "Meatloaf" Amerine (Corley, Arkansas; United States Naval Academy); Naval Flight Officer Lt. Christine "Sparky" Plecki (Madison, Wisconsin; University of Wisconsin); Naval Aviator Lt. Michael "Neuts" Farmer (St. Cloud, Minnesota; UND); Naval Flight Officer Lt. Kyle "Furry" Saraceni (University of South Florida); Naval Aviator Lt. Nate "Burns" Gingery (Okemos, Michigan; Michigan State University); Naval Flight Officer Lt. Liz "Gosho" Hall (Allentown, Pennsylvania; United States Naval Academy); and ground support/Intelligence Officer Lt. (JG) Nick Overby (Wanamingo, Minnesota; Minnesota State University, Mankato).

After completing the flyover, the squadron members will travel quickly to the University of Minnesota to watch the Vikings (7-2) attempt to defend first place in the NFC North against the Packers (6-3).

"The Vikings mean so much to Minnesota," Com. Danielson said. "It certainly means a lot to me as a Minnesotan, and all the people that supported us over the years with my dad being missing, those that came to Kenyon for our service, this is a very meaningful thing for me to be able to give back. I feel like we're giving back a little here."

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