Until recently, it was highly unlikely any of Richard and Sara Reichenbach’s three children would be joined by their dad on a roller coaster or ferris wheel in their lifetimes.
“I’m afraid of heights. I don’t like bumpy airplane rides and I’m not a roller coaster person,” said Richard Reichenbach, the head coach of the University of Maine women’s ice hockey team.
But that all changed on Sept. 1.
Reichenbach spent an hour that day in the backseat of a cockpit in a Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet, after having been nominated and chosen through a program that identifies community members who have had an impact on local youth.
“I was extremely excited but scared beyond belief,” the 39-year-old Reichenbach said about finding out he’d been chosen through a project called Key Influencer.
Former University of Maine baseball coach and current Stetson University coach Steve Trimper, whose twin daughters Ally and Morgan play for Reichenbach, flew with the Blue Angels recently as part of the Key Influencer project and recommended it to Reichenbach.
He filled out an application form and was nominated by someone in either the Marine Corps or Navy.
The Blue Angels are a world-renowned U.S. Navy flight demonstration group that puts on air shows across the world.
When he arrived at the parking lot at the former Brunswick Naval Station, Reichenbach said he was shaking.
“I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life,” he said.
He underwent a 30-minute interview followed by a 45-minute run-through with each leg strapped in by seatbelts. He was instructed to dig his heels in and flex his legs, abs and neck. He was taught a maneuver to keep blood in his brain so he wouldn’t pass out.
“When you take off, you hover at first. And then you go straight up. You feel the G-force right away. It’s like you have no control over your body. There is so much pressure coming straight down on your head and your shoulders. The pressure and physical force of the G-force is something I will never forget.”
Reichenbach passed out three times during the flight and said it was a weird sensation.
“I’ve been knocked out before playing hockey and I’ve been put to sleep for surgeries. But when you pass out up there, you wind up having real vivid dreams,” he said. “So when you wake up, you’re confused. For a couple of seconds, you have no idea where you are.”
The Blue Angels did rolls and flew upside down over a lake.
As they came in for the landing, Reichenbach saw that there was a pretty good crowd on hand.
Then he passed out for the fourth time.
He gained a tremendous amount of respect for the F-18s and even more respect for the pilots who fly them.
“They are so professional and they are in tremendous shape,” he said.
Reichenbach said he experienced so many “different, overwhelming emotions” during the flight and he made noises that he couldn’t explain.
There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment and a remarkable rush that comes with achieving what he did and he said he would do it again.
“I would love to see if I could stay awake longer,” Reichenbach said.
Until then, he will have to settle for the roller coaster and ferris wheel.