***MORE PHOTOS WILL BE ADDED LATER***
Filing this blog post under the ‘General’ category doesn’t come close to providing the justice that it deserves… If I have a ‘Mind blowing’ category, that may be a step closer!
Like pretty much anyone that was old enough to watch the movie TopGun in 1986, I’ve always wanted to fly in a fighter jet… I spent years of my childhood building scale models starting off with an F-4 Phantom, a bunch of F-14 Tomcat’s, F-15-Eagle, F-18 Hornet, RAF Tornado, RAF Harrier etc. while trying to not glue my fingers together, cut a digit off, of get enamel paint on my bedroom carpet! I wanted to be a pilot for a long time, but a colorblindness test in high-school dictated otherwise. In my early teens I had a surprise flying lesson in a Cessna for my 12th or 13th birthday. I’m pretty sure I was too young at the time, but I got to spend some time at the controls and fly over my house in Scotland.
Anyway… Back in 2010 I was fortunate to get invited to be part of a small group of civilians on a visit to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76) aircraft carrier. Getting to land and take off from an aircraft carrier in a C-2A was amazing! Standing on the flight deck watching planes take off and land while standing what felt like only 20 feet away was also quite surreal. At that moment I told myself that I HAVE to fly in one of those planes!!!
In late 2010, I was hugely fortunate to receive an invitation from the Navy to be a VIP rider with the Blue Angels. They weren’t coming to Hawaii in 2011, so the two possible locations I picked were Miramar (Top Gun!) and San Francisco. Things didn’t pan out and I thought the dream may be disappearing, but then I saw they had the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii on their 2011 schedule. Earlier this year I got the call to tell me that I would be flying with the Blue Angels at the Kaneohe Bay Airshow! No freakin’ way!
When you’re waiting almost 2 years for a once in a lifetime experience such as this to happen, it feels like forever… But earlier this week it felt like time had flown by.
This morning I drove over the H3 to MCBH in Kaneohe for my flight. First we had a briefing about what to expect during the flight, what to do, what to not do. Also, some direction on what to do in the unlikely event that we would need to eject from the aircraft, and the subsequent parachute ‘bonus ride’ back to earth. We were also told how to breathe during high-G manouvers to prevent G-Loc (Loss Of Consciousness). Then we signed the ATA (Air Transportation Agreement) card, and were handed flight suits to get into. There were supposed to be three people flying, but the third person unfortunately didn’t get to go, only myself and Gina Mangieri from local news channel KHON2.
My flight was in Blue Angel #7 piloted by Lieutenant Mark Tedrow. One cool fact about Lt. Tedrow is that he completed deployments in the Western Pacific and Middle East aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which is the same Navy vessel that I got a tour of in 2010.
I went up the ladder into the back seat of the aircraft first, and got strapped into the 12-point harness. Next, Lt. Tedrow came up, introduced himself and shook my hand, then got into the front seat. He went over the various hardware in the cockpit; three screens displaying info like speed, G’s, fuel, engine info, and radar. Lt. Tedrow lowered the canopy, and after a test of electronics, we were off to the runway. The acceleration down the runway towards the ocean was insane… A regular 737 or similar airline doesn’t even compare. Once we left the ground, we cruised at about 50ft altitude before Lt. Tedrow pulled the nose of the plane up, creating 6G’s and had is flying pretty much straight up like a rocket. Next he leveled out the aircraft and we cruised out over the pacific north of O’ahu. Lt. Tedrow then pointed the nose of the aircraft slightly upward before dipping it back down and accerelating us beyond the soundbarrier! I didn’t think that I’d get to fly supersonic, but I guess that it’s OK to do it over the open ocean vs in an inhabited area (risk of shattering windows!).
Lt. Tedrow reduced our speed to show me how manouverable the aircraft is at low speed. After that we did various manouvers… A complete loop, flying inverted, aileron roll, flying straight up, experiencing zero-G’s (similar feeling to going over the top of a hump in a rollercoaster…). It was amazing at how fast the F/A-18 can do an aileron roll… Although it doesn’t produce any G’s, it can rotate on its axis quite violently! We also did some low-altitude flying over the ocean which was pretty cool, and I couldn’t see land in any direction. After that Lt. Tedrow played around flying around the low-level clouds.
I managed to not black out and also keep my breakfast down… but only just. While flying back to Kbay along the windward coast I could feel my body trying hard to barf! I pulled out a sick bag just in case, but happily I didn’t have to use it. Phew. One final 7G turn into Kbay with a trail of smoke and we were back on the ground.
I’d like to thank everyone at the Blue Angels and MCBH Hawaii for making today’s flight happen… Flying in an F/A18 Hornet is something that despite dreaming about, never thought that it would realistically happen. Today’s experience is one that I will definitely NEVER forget. It caps of a crazy 2 months where I got married, my daughter was born, I finally got US Citizenship, and finished the final dissertation for my Masters. What next? Virgin Galactic?
Blue Angels 9-26-2012 (Longer video) from Mike Zagorski on Vimeo.