NFL Fighter Pilot
Chad Hennings won the Outland Trophy while playing for the Air Force Academy. Like Roger Staubach and NBA legend David Robinson, he had a military commitment after his outstanding college career. Hennings flew fighter jets for the U.S. Air Force between his college football career and his time with the Dallas Cowboys.
Like the Cowboys iconic head coach Tom Landry, Hennings was a combat pilot and flew missions over enemy territory. Hennings experienced a frightful engine problem on one mission, which he detailed for The Game Before the Money.
A Quick Turn of Events
“I was assigned to an Air Force base in England called RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge,” Hennings said on The Game Before the Money podcast. “Our main emphasis of responsibility in case war was to break out was more a central European scenario. When the Gulf War eventually kicked off, our area of responsibility was Europe but we were the first Europe squadron to get tasked to fly out of Incirlik, Turkey, to help set up a no-fly zone. The goal was to protect the Kurds from potential genocide of what Saddam Hussein had done to them a few years before this, by dropping mustard gas on a couple of Kurdish villages.”
“So we never knew we would be tasked to do this until basically the day before we were notified that we needed to be in there to start flying missions out of Turkey. So literally, we were notified on an evening and within 24 hours we flew jets out of England over the Mediterranean and into Turkey. The following day would be our first mission flying into northern Iraq. So it happened that fast.”
A Frightful Engine Problem
Chad’s initial flight nearly turned tragic as danger struck in the open skies.
“About six hours into the flight, I was over the Mediterranean, south of the island of Crete. I had an issue with my right engine, my number two engine, and I ended up having an emergency procedure. It ended up being a bad oil seal in the engine. I had to shut the engine down and divert into a naval air station called Souda Bay on the island of Crete to get the aircraft fixed.”
Hennings detailed the teamwork that went into avoiding disaster.
“That was a day that I’ll never forget and how I worked with my other wingman as a team to go through the emergency checklist, fly the aircraft, communicate with air traffic control, and ultimately be flexible in our tactics to go to a base we had no intention of ever stopping at. I realized that Murphy’s Law is always in effect. What can go wrong typically does go wrong, but to be prepared and to think outside the box at times and follow your training.”
Dallas Cowboys 3 Super Bowls in 1990s
Chad completed 45 successful combat missions during active duty. He returned home to play football for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992. The Cowboys were an up-and-coming team coached by Jimmy Johnson, who had won a playoff game the previous season. Teammates like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin were about to become legendary NFL stars. When Chad arrived to the team, however, he was surprised at the topics of conversation.
“What I found interesting was that many of my teammates and coaches were more intrigued to hear about “war stories” than they were to talk about football or anything regarding football. I think it emphasizes my initial answer to your question about why I wanted to fly jets and play football because I think every young man grows up wanting to play war, and you play sports.”
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