by Michael Afromowitz (muaythaimes@aol.com) for K-1
Like many of his colleagues, K-1 and mixed martial arts star, Duane “Bang” Ludwig, holds an intense passion for the extreme that extends beyond combat in the squared circle or the cage. Recently, the 28-year-old took advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity to test his physical and mental limits while soaring through the air in superhuman fashion.

On Tuesday, October 24th, Ludwig spent approximately 40 minutes seated inside the cockpit of an airborne United States Airforce Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jet that rolled, looped and performed assorted other mesmerizing maneuvers while exploring the skies of Las Vegas, Nevada at an altitude of roughly 12,000 feet. The flight, which reached speeds in excess of 774 miles per hour, the speed of sound, came as part of an invitation the world Muay Thai champion had received from the staff at Las Vegas’ Nellis Air Force Base, the home of elite pilot demonstration squad, The Thunderbirds.

“Just experiencing all the power the jet has and to see all the team work and the precision that goes into being a pilot – it takes a lot of people to actually get that jet going – it was something I never knew,” said Ludwig. “I have a lot more respect now for the pilots themselves. There’s a lot more going on than I thought as far as the teamwork and the dedication. It’s just like how people don’t realize all the training fighters do. They think that we just go in the ring and fight for three, five-minute rounds and that’s it. There’s loads of preparation that goes into a fight.”

Ironically, the Denver, Colorado native described his flight which, for the most part, spanned the mountains of Death Valley, as a serene experience conducive to meditation rather than a nerve-wracking episode that one might imagine would unfold while participating in such an intense activity for the first time.

“Just to be able to move so freely, it kind of felt like being a bird, even though you’re strapped into the seat,” said Ludwig, who was given his tour through the sky by Major Nicole Malachowski, the first female demonstration pilot in the history of any major demonstration team in The United States. “Nothing mattered up there. You’re all alone. It’s really weird in a way.”

For Ludwig, the biggest surprise of the trip was his encounter with gravitational force, more commonly referred to as “g-force.” Gauged in numerical units, g-force is a measure of pressure being placed against a given object. One g is equivalent to the weight of the human body and is the amount of pressure an individual faces while in a normal sitting position. During the excursion, Ludwig endured as much as five g’s, or five times his body weight, being pressed against him.

“Every area of your body is just being compressed down. It’s amazing to feel that,” described the fighter. “I never even really thought about it. You see pilots in movies and it looks like they’re just flying around and they look like nothing’s happening to them, like no g-force is affecting them. But when they’re actually flying, they’re getting crushed down and it’s amazing that they can still control the jet and fly perfectly.”