Panthers refuel for season with military excursion

Panthers Graham Gano, Fozzy Whittaker, Mario Addison, Brian Folkerts and Nate Chandler pose in front of refuling jet with the 916th refueling unit from Seymour Johnson Air Force base. David Newton/ESPN.com

GOLDSBORO, N.C. -- Nate Chandler took the control stick and pulled back to full throttle. The fighter jet made a steep climb as it began a loop like the ones the famed U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds would be doing in a few hours in preparing for a weekend air show at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

“It didn’t work out so well,’’ the Carolina Panthers offensive lineman said on Friday. “I got caught looking at the mountains and stuff, and the next thing you know I ran into a mountain.’’

Fortunately, Chandler was in a flight simulator.

But as he learned in the simulator and later on a KC-135R refueling jet with the base’s 916th refueling unit, concentration is as important -- or more important -- in the military as it is on the football field.

It also can be fun.

Defensive end Mario Addison was almost speechless as he stepped off the refueling jet with Chandler, running back Fozzy Whittaker, kicker Graham Gano and center Brian Folkerts.

“Most fun I’ve had all year . . . the last 10 years,’’ Addison said with a huge smile.

The five players spent about 90 minutes in the air on the refueling mission. They saw firsthand the teamwork it took to refuel an F-15 from 20,000 feet.

The trip, part of a partnership with the USO of North Carolina for Military Appreciation Month, also included a trip to the gun range, where Folkerts apparently showed the steadiest hand.

It was a nice break for all from the regular routine of weight lifting, cardio and film study that takes place in offseason workouts.

“I always dreamed about what it’s like to be up there,’’ Addison said as he reflected on the refueling mission. “Man, it was awesome. Words can’t explain it. If I could do it over again, I would do it right now.’’

Addison chronicled the refueling on social media.

I'm Having A Great Time With The Troops Right Now #SaluteTheTroop #GreatFriday

A video posted by Mario Addison (@hit_stiq4) on

So did Gano.

Watched this F-15 refuel earlier!!

A video posted by Graham Gano (@grahamgano9) on

All five players left impressed by the dedication and focus it took to perform the refueling.

“You have to block out everything and focus on the task at hand and get it done,’’ Addison said. “Personally, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. Those guys were great.’’

Whittaker said there are comparisons between preparation that takes place in the military and football, but quickly reminded football isn’t life and death.

“Their lives depend on it, not just 10 other people on the field,’’ he said. “Whole cities and countries depend on what they do.’’

For a day these Carolina players got a sample of what that’s like. Chandler in particular developed an appreciation for what it’s like after crashing in the simulator.

And when he got in the cockpit of the refueling jet to watch the landing, nobody handed over the control stick.

“After they saw me in the simulator they were like, ‘Maybe next time,’’’ Chandler said. “But [the flight] honestly was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.’’