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We rode shotgun in an F-16 with the Air Force’s elite stunt pilots

In combat, how you handle your plane is a matter of life or death. That’s also true for stunt pilots like the U.S. Air Force’s elite Thunderbirds, who fly their jets just inches apart with a crowd watching from below.

The maneuvers are more than skill: They’re an incredible feat of physical training that allow pilots to breathe and perform under enormous g-forces. Each additional “g” adds your body weight in force. So at 9 g’s, a 200-pound man feels 1,800 pounds of force against his body. It’s like having an elephant stand on your stomach while you’re riding a roller coaster.

VICE News met up with the Thunderbirds in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to take a ride in an F-16 and see firsthand how these pilots manage to push their planes through these insane stunts.