Ran back out to the air show with my mom and dad and about 2,000 of my closest friends for a wonderful evening of night flight.
Matt Younkin and Kyle Franklin put together some thrilling and awe-inspiring night-time acts. Lights, pyro, smoke, and great music. The Shockwave Jet Truck lit up the runway, a MIG warmed us all up by dropping a charge we all felt, and the U.S. Army Golden Knights were stunning and graceful.
It’s difficult to describe the fascination of being around aircraft and the people who fly them. Even the most experienced pilot stops working or talking and looks up dreamily into the sky as another aircraft does something stunning. And just about every machine does something spectacular during rehearsal. Whether it’s the F-4 Phantom that appears to have been the “original” flying brick, or a 2 seater Pitts Special like Brett Hunter brought to Fort Smith. How is it that those F-4’s landed on aircraft carriers in Vietnam?
As we taxied, folks looking at Brett’s aircraft seemed to be wondering a lot of things. Some seemed to think, “That’s CRAZY!” Others grinned and waved excitedly. A couple of people said, “I’m jealous!” More than a few said, “No way no how not me EVER!”
I’ve always enjoyed watching the big military jets with almost zero glide capabilities. They’re flying bricks. Strapped to a rocket. They’re engineering marvels, thumbing their noses LOUDLY at the notion of gravity. The pilots trick themselves into some sort of unspoken “attitude.” Yeah, gravity. What goes up does come down, but only when WE DECIDE to come down.
In the case of Brett Hunter, we climbed up, up, up. He pitched the wing down, and we headed for the ground. So he gave in to gravity for a few seconds before he said, “Gravity, you ain’t the boss of ME!” That right there, friends, is the thrill. My entire body felt the g’s as we started falling and then as we began to climb again. The physical sensation is, indeed, part of the rush.
At one point, I yelled, “Brett, I have a confession. I HATE roller coasters.”
“Me too!” he said. Then he jostled the plane a bit and said, “See? It’s a rough ride on those tracks.” Then he very sssssmoooooothly lifted the nose and we climbed into another gravity-audacious maneuver.
Right now, just as I started trying to describe my experience, I realized part of the fascination. Roller coasters are connected to something connected to earth. The hammer head stalls, the spins, the Cuban 8’s — no safety net. Human engineered power overcomes gravity. A human mind chooses somewhat randomly when to succumb to gravity. A well-trained pilot like Brett Hunter understands the parameters by which his aircraft can once again fly. Under these conditions, man is the master of a rule of nature.
What goes up must come down — when we choose to make it so. That is a thrilling concept. The speed, the unknown, the sensation of being upside down and strapped into an open cockpit, mastering the g forces. It’s why nearly every Fort Smith resident will have cricks in their necks after 3 or 4 days of watching the skies. We love to watch the marvel of daring flight and imagine what it must feel like to experience more than the thunder and noise.
Today, thanks to my friends at the 188th Fighter Wing, several of us experienced the thrill of flight.
Tomorrow, I’ll watch Brett perform from the ground and I’m gonna say, “He ought not be doin’ that! That ain’t RIGHT!”
The great big grin on my face is a reflection of the confidence I gained from my experience — we can do what can’t be done, we can enjoy the ride, and thumb our noses at people who think being skeert of a roller coaster is cowardly. Brett taught me today that roller coaster riders may be thinking too small. Freedom is the ultimate thrill ride.
Check out links to animated spin maneuvers:
This was a piece of cake. I dunno if we did a full Cuban or a half Cuban:
This Hammerhead was a little disconcerting for a split second. It’s the first time I felt a little light in the seat. We’d done some rolls and upside down stuff, but they were so fast I never felt like my gravity was more pronounced than the gravity of the aircraft.
You get a little light just as the plane rolls over onto its wing and then nose-dives down.
This one was a BEAST!
Looks simple on a computer, but this is the one that finally took my breath away. Mentally, I wanted to do more. Physically, it was about all I could handle. If we had time to cruise a bit and let me catch my breath, I think I could have withstood ONE MORE maneuver. It was INSANE.