They said it would be the most memorable 45 minutes of my life, and they were right. A flight with the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, or the Blue Angels, was something I’ll never forget.
I was lucky to be one of 3 civilians selected for a flight ahead of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airshow happening this weekend, when the Blue Angels will perform in the Alabama skies before thousands of people. The special chance to see the aircraft up close was something I had long hoped for.
Safety training and pre-flight briefings began early in the day, around 8:45 a.m. While these pilots clearly love the adrenalin of the flights, safety is their highest priority. While they reminded me that I had a better chance of winning the lottery than having anything but a perfect flight experience, they made sure I was trained and prepared for any scenario that could ever present itself during the flight. This was a time to get to know the pilot and crew chief responsible for this experience.
Around 2:00 p.m., Lt. Andre Webb climbed into the F/A-18 Hornet that I was already strapped into. He assured me I had nothing to be concerned about. Suddenly, all the nervousness disappeared as I realized I was flying with one of the most elite pilots in the world, in a nearly combat-ready jet that could handle anything. This was going to be fun.
We taxi to the runway at the slowest speed we would travel for the next 45 minutes. Moments later, we were traveling 100 miles per hour and climbing, about to ascend into the West Alabama sky. At 280 miles per hour, I hear the warning from Lt. Webb: “Ready, hit it!” This meant prepare for intense downforce on the takeoff, as we went from nearly ground level to close to 10,000 feet in the air in a matter of seconds.
The Blue Angels do not wear pressurized suits to relieve any gravitational down force, or “Gs,” while in flight. You fly in one of the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornets with nothing more than the t-shirt under your flight suit. That means your body experiences every single G of force in flight. At the peak, we pulled 7 Gs in flight, as Lt. Webb guided the jet back over the airport in a fierce turn going sideways.
I never had any motion sickness, and never passed out, although some of the gravitational force caused blurry vision at times. Thanks to the training provided by the pilots ahed of time, it wasn’t too difficult to stay above the fray- or stay awake!
Our flight took us about 30 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa. We spent about 45 minutes in the air. We flew inverted for nearly a solid minute. Then we flew just shy of the speed of sound- in a plane with two General Electric engines, caring nearly 10,000 gallons of fuel.
We land back at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport close to 3:00 p.m., where the Blue Angels display their fun hospitality while also showing off the full power of the U.S. Navy.
You can see the Blue Angels in action this weekend at the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show. Tickets start at just $15. You can find more information here.
Thanks to the Blue Angels for the ride of a lifetime and a memory I’ll never forget.