Under the Helmet with Jimmy Graham: The bond in flying teammates and performing aerobatics

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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Packers tight end Jimmy Graham takes teammates Jake Kumerow, Robert Tonyan and Tim Boyle for a flight over Lambeau Field.

This is part of an occasional series of questions with Packers players, taking a look at their life and interests on and off the field. Earlier this year, we caught up with tight end Jimmy Graham, who talked about the bond created by flying teammates over Green Bay, his dream flight and what he plans to do in the sky when he retires.

Graham is the honorary co-chair of The Oshkosh-based Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Young Eagles Program, which is dedicated to giving youth ages 8 to 17 their first free ride in a plane.

Q: Quite a few of your teammates have gone up with you — do you offer or do you wait until they ask to go?*

Graham: “Randomly, if it’s good weather and I’m going to run the plane then I just see who’s not playing golf, basically. That’s how that rolls. Very special for me to be able to share. Flying and football go hand-in-hand for myself. I’ve been doing both for 10 years now. It’s one of those things to have those opportunities to share with my teammates what I’ve learned and really the history behind some of the aircraft that I do have and what I’m doing with it. It’s pretty special being able to build that bond. It’s the ultimate bond and trust because your life is in my hands technically. I mean, I take that very serious. Because I love my life, because I’m in that plane as well and I’m not going to do anything to put it in jeopardy. So to be able to give me that trust and enjoy that moment is definitely something special.”

Q: Some players can’t ride roller coasters or own certain cars because of their size — is there a plane you’d like to fly but you physically cannot due to being 6 feet, 7 inches and 265 pounds?

Graham: “Yeah, I would say with our Blue Angels. Living down there in the South I’ve seen them fly since I was a young boy and I always wanted to. There’s some issues with mainly my weight with that seat. Hopefully after I retire a long ways down the line we can figure something out. Being able to fly with them and to see how they operate because they’re some of the best to ever do it, the best in the world to fly. Not only aerobatics but to fly that close. Aerobatics is one thing, but when you’re doing formation aerobatics it’s a completely different ballgame. I do it on an amateur level now and just kind of the intent of it, how much trust is involved, how much training is involved and to see them and the things they’re doing with big pieces of metal is super impressive. So it’s always been a dream to learn and kind of pick their brains on how and what they’re doing.”

“There’s a lot of jets, like private jets, there’s a lot of small commuters (I can’t fit in). People want to give me rides or try to convince me that I need to get around somehow in something like that but I can’t fit in the cockpit. Simple as that. I’ve tried. They’re thinking about things they can do but really when you’re flying kind of the private stuff, the small jets and what not, it can be pretty annoying because you’re going pretty far usually so you’re in there for quite a while. If there’s a will, there’s a way. We’ll find a way. I learned in a Cub, which is a little, tiny aircraft like my tail wheel. To get in I had to take my shoes off, so I flew barefoot just so I could try and fit better. Most of it’s military or jets where I struggle. They build a lot of the private jets for the passengers. They don’t build it for the pilots. That’s kind of my dynamic.

“It’s just usually me and my dog so it’d be nice to have more room in the cockpit, that’s for sure.’

Q: The “Huey” (a Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter) gives you some leg room, though?

Graham: “Oh yeah, it’s huge. It’s massive. Oh no, that thing is a whole different animal. I’d love to fly a Blackhawk. I mean, I’d love to — there all these Chinooks. That’d be cool. All the military stuff — I don’t care what it is. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. I got a lot of time to try and pull that off. I’ve just been so busy training and with football; flying is always kind of on the back burner. I’ve done a lot, but still, it’s always been kind of third or fourth on the list of things in my life. Once I retire it’ll be a crazy window of opportunity. I’ll do air shows.”

Q: Really? Aerobatics, too?

Graham: “Oh yeah, I’ll do air shows when I retire. I’ll flip planes and entertain people.

“Once I can really do it and do competition aerobatics and hopefully try and represent the U.S. nationally. That’d be cool just trying to get to that level. But that’s later.”

Previous Under the Helmet interviews

Contact Jim Owczarski at jowczarski@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @JimOwczarski or Facebook at facebook.com/JOwczarski.

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