Written by Cory Twibell Friday, 03 June 2011 00:00
It began with a text from my co-worker and good friend, Rich Forestano, asking, “Want to fly in a fighter jet?”
The day of that particular inquiry was May 11.
Sure enough, fifteen days later – Rich is a man of his word – we flew.
Leading up to the Memorial Day weekend festivities and the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, Lt. Col. John Klatt and his Air National Guard crew provided Rich and me with a front row seat (literally) of some world-class aerobatics high above the union of sand and surf.
Prior to our flight, we were briefed on the dual-plane process: one editor would accompany Lt. Col. Klatt, an active Air National Guard pilot with three Middle East combat deployments under his belt, in the aerobatics plane (an Extra 300L two-seater, which doesn’t exactly scream “fighter jet” like Klatt’s F-16) while the other would fly in what was called the “chase” plane, flying alongside and preserving the experience through photographs and video.
As such, an office-sanctioned, impartial coin-toss decided our fate: Rich would board the chaser and I’d get my wings with Lt. Col. Klatt in the Extra 300L aerobatics plane.
“Petrified” is perhaps a bit overdramatic, but I wasn’t exactly feeling at peace upon seeing the Youtube videos of Klatt in action. “You only live once,” I thought to myself, not overly reassuring but useful nonetheless.
The days passed (along with one particularly restless night) and before I knew it, we were strapped in and gripping the runway at Farmingdale’s Republic Airport.
If pavement could talk, it would’ve been laughing for what I got myself into. There goes another sucker, it would garble up at me.
“In the rare event of an in-flight emergency,” the crewman continued as he instructed me on evacuation procedures; my brain rattled out some morbid thoughts while my eyes traced a tangled sea of multi-colored straps, hooks, buckles and chutes. This straight jacket of safety is going to be the death of me, I thought, because there was no way I’d remember which button to press or lever to pull if this crewman’s warning became my reality.
An internal volcano of pride and patriotism had erupted: “Who better to trust than a guy whose living is fighting for our freedom?” And for the first time, I had someone – a new friend and fellow hockey fan Lt. Col. John Klatt from Minnesota – who I’ll forever remember and extend my infinite gratitude to each year on Memorial Day.
Before the flight, I was told to expect a similar sensation as experienced on a roller coaster. As we continued our climb in elevation, we passed through a thin layer of cloud cover and entered into a new world where white was no longer synonymous with “up.”
Klatt soon began jerking the plane around as if he took offense to something I said earlier and now hated me. The sheer concept of “up” was now useless. Devoid of any remaining sense of time, direction or gravitational logic, I was at the mercy of the Extra 300L and my new “friend” John Klatt.
Aerobatics is nothing like a roller coaster and whoever tells you as much is lying. Every movement is swift, sudden and wholly consuming.
But eventually the recognition of maneuvers confirms a conquest of sorts (as does still having an empty “evacuation” bag) and each rise and fall quells a newly developed addiction.
By the time we set our course back toward Republic Airport, I thank John for sharing his gift with me. I mention that he’s been a great teacher and how I’m ready to take the controls once we land.
And while we’re making our way back down to Earth, I think of yet another old adage proved to be true – the view is better from up here.