As children, we all have dreams of things we would like to do or aspire to become when we grow up.
For me it was to become a professional baseball player. Later, I added on more with one being able to fly a jet. Not just any jet, but a military jet because they were the best.
Years later when I was in the Navy, I saw a lot of aircraft carriers running flight ops at sea when we were alongside supplying them with fuel and supplies. It was amazing to see and hear those jets taking off and landing on short runways with no room for error.
Years later — well actually many years later — the opportunity came for me to fly with one of the Blue Angels, with one of the absolute best pilots in the world on one of the best jets.
It all came together quickly after I was contacted by Brett Downer from the O’Carroll Group — and I did not tell anyone besides my wife, just in case.
This past Wednesday morning I received a call from Brett to come to the airport for a preflight walk-through. I still was not sure the flight would happen because it was expected to rain for the next few days.
When I arrived, I was told we were going to go up that day.
We had the pre–flight walk-through meeting with the crew chief and the pilot, Lt. Julius Bratton, and they were very specific about what needed to be done, and not done.
We were told what to do if we had to eject, how to manage the g forces with some body control training and what not to touch — everything yellow. We were shown diagrams of the cockpit layout, how to read the instrument panel and given an overview of what to expect once we were in the air.
Then it was time for my dream to come true.
I asked Lt. Bratton if it was OK to record while we were flying from my phone and he said, “Sure, but when I tell you to put it away you need to do that.”
In the plane I was buckled in at my ankles, thigh and waist and put under a large harness.
Then, we were off.
Lt. Bratton and I had microphones to talk with each other during the flight and he told me what we were going to do for takeoff. We sped up and lifted off and then went into a steep and fast ascent, which finally brings the message home — I am now flying on a military jet.
We climbed to about 10,000 feet in a few seconds and were above the cloud cover. Lt. Bratton asked me, as he would many times, if I was OK. I was.
The first thing I noticed as I looked out the window was that it doesn’t seem we were moving very fast, but when I looked at the gauges, we were flying at over 310 knots.
Then the fun began.
“Dan, are you ready to do some things,” Lt. Bratton asked. “Good, we are going to bank left and hit about 2 g’s.” We do, and he checks in again — all is well.
This continued to progress and we did some inverted flying, a few loops and then the banking and ascents started to intensify.
Lt. Bratton continued to ask if I was OK as he sped up or increased the g’s through tighter turns.
He then told me he had been asked to do a fly-by at Fort Polk. When I asked what we would be doing, he said we would speed up to about 600 knots and then go into a fast climb. He told me to get ready for the g’s because they will be in the 7 range.
As we approached the base, we continued to move faster until we passed it and then started to climb. The g pressure became intense. The next thing I know, Lt. Bratton is saying “Dan, Dan, are you OK?” He is asking because I passed out for several seconds. The things I was trained to do to combat the g forces — to maintain blood flow in my head — did not work out as well as expected. But, I am OK so we continued on doing different maneuvers.
All the while, I was thinking, “This is better than I could have imagined — the speed, the directional changes, the g force pressure, the anticipation of the next stage and the ongoing communication with Lt. Bratton.”
I feel completely confident he is as good as it gets in doing what he is doing.
Finally, he said it was time to return. He asked if I would prefer a carrier landing or a long runway landing — he said the carrier landing starts with a steep hard bank and then a quick touchdown. The steep bank went exactly as I had imagined except I was not awake for all of it as “Dan, Dan, are you OK?” brought me back to reality.
We landed and the most intense hour of my life ended — I was absolutely drained, in a good way. Lt. Bratton looked like he was ready to go again.
The Blue Angels and specifically the crew chief and Lt. Bratton made it exceed all of the expectations I had built up over the years.
And speaking of dreams, Lt. Bratton mentioned he wanted to become a pilot when he was 5. He locked in on his dream and never let up on the throttle.
I never imagined how demanding flying a jet could be and I am sure I was only experiencing the basics of what they do.
To do that, with that level of precision and passion is remarkable.
I also want to thank Peter, Pam and Brett from the O’Carroll Group who do a great job of leading the advertising effort, the publicity and a large portion of the coordination for the Chennault Air Show. I was on that flight because of them.