BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) — It wasn’t the takeoff, in which we pulled six G’s as we streaked at a 45-degree angle toward the heavens.
And it wasn’t breaking the sound barrier as we hurtled over the Atlantic at nearly 800 mph. I even got through the straight-up maneuver, in which the pilot took our F/A-18 Hornet from 200 feet over the ocean waves to 14,000 feet — like I said, straight up — in a matter of seconds.
What finally made this flatlander reach for the barf bag was a relatively routine maneuver for a high-performance military jet of this type.
Just before our final approach, Lt. Frank Weisser of the Navy’s Blue Angels executed a “carrier turn,” a turn that’s so tight it creates a big gravitational pull.
That did the trick.
But the discomfort was soon over — and so was my ride of a lifetime. Now it’s time for the guys who can really handle the big G-forces and upside-down turns to take over.
That’ll be this weekend, when the Navy’s Blue Angels join other aerial acrobats for the 2008 Great State of Maine Air Show at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. The Saturday and Sunday spectacles will be historic because they’ll be the last at the coastal Maine base, which is slated to be phased out during the next year and shut down as part of the federal base-closure process.
As a prelude, three reporters were invited to take rides Wednesday. We used a two-seat version of the six Hornets that’ll be flown by the Blue Angels pilots. Their skills at precision flying are probably best showcased when they maneuver the blue-and-gold darts, which are 56 feet long and have a wing span of just over 40 feet, in formations in which there are only 18 inches of daylight from one plane’s wing tip to another’s.
Marine Staff Sgt. Deo Harrypersaud, a crew chief and frequent flyer himself, quickly found the words to explain what keeps him going aloft whenever he can: “I’m an adrenaline junkie.”
Wednesday’s weather was perfect for flying, blue skies broken up by a few clouds, light wind, plenty of sunshine. After two other reporters got their chance, it was my turn. The crew pumped fuel into the plane and Harrypersaud gave last-minute instructions as I was buckled in and helmeted.
Three decades of driving motorcycles — and even my one-time whack at bungee jumping in New Zealand — didn’t prepare me for what I would soon experience.
Weisser fired up the twin jet engines, kicked on the afterburners — and then released the brakes. We shot down the runway as if sprung out of a giant slingshot and seconds later were skipping along at 300 knots. That’s about 500 feet per second. Fast.
Things quickly got even faster over the ocean.
After a dipsy-do on our side so I could get a better look at the sea, Weisser went to the afterburners again and put the pedal to the metal, taking us to the top speed of the day at Mach 1.05, or 779 mph. At this speed, it isn’t the blurring scenery that registers. It’s the pressures and forces your body feels, the sweat that pours out, the funny sensation in your gut.
Soon, Weisser was guiding our plane into a full, 360-degree loop, in which waves were suddenly above us and the clouds below. That’s the one where the breathing lessons to combat G-lock, the draining of blood from your head, comes in handy if you want to stay conscious. I managed to hang on.
I also stuck with it as we did our straight-up maneuver. After a few more practice breaths, Weisser flipped us over for maybe 15 seconds, but that can be a long time when you’re screaming along at a 450 mph clip.
Soon we were headed toward the sun and final, fateful maneuver that copycats what a fighter pilot does when heading for an aircraft carrier landing.
Pretty fair flying in a jet with 32,000 pounds of thrust for a man who had never been in a cockpit before 2000. A Naval Academy graduate, Weisser finished flight school in ‘02 and started flying F/A-18 Hornets in 2004.
The Pensacola, Fla.-based Blue Angels have been making their shrieking calls to the Maine skies since 1962, just 16 years after they were formed by order of Chester W. Nimitz, then the chief of naval operations.
The aerobatics of the six strike-fighter jets, designed to reach speeds of 1,200 mph, dazzle spectators with diamond formations and maneuvers that showcase the pilots’ precision flying skills.
The flight demonstration team’s schedule called for performances at 37 air shows this year, and its Web site says more than 15 million spectators watched the Blue Angels perform in last year’s shows.
In 1986, Boeing’s Hornets succeeded a procession of earlier high-performance aircraft used by the Blue Angels — planes known as Hellcats, Bearcats, Panthers, Cougars, Phantoms and Skyhawks.