On May 2, 2001 I was blessed with the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels! I know…it doesn’t even sound like real life when I say it out loud. Only rock stars and huge celebrities get to ride with the Blues. But there I was in Ft. Smith, AR working at KTCS as their midday host when the owner came down the hallway asking all of the men if they wanted to fly with the Blue Angels. THREE co-workers who were all men turned the opportunity down. I could hear the owner, Melissa, getting closer to the studio where I was on the air. I heard everyone say no, and I knew I was next. How could anyone turn down the chance to fly in an F/A-18 Hornet? C’mawwwwwn! Melissa asked me next and I screamed, “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees”!
This was not my first time in a fighter jet. Two years prior to this I got to fly with the local chapter of the 188th Fighter Wing in Ft. Smith, AR. Col. Koch was my pilot that day, and we flew in an F-16.
To fly with the 188th, I had to go through a half day of what the Air Force calls “Egress”. It’s where you learn the basics of survival IF anything were to go wrong during the flight. You learn how to eject from the cockpit. They teach you how to open your parachute. Plus they teach you how to put on 75 pounds of flight gear. I’m only 5’3″, so that gear was unbelievably heavy for me. But it was fascinating to learn more about a fighter pilot’s day in and day out job functions.
Col. Koch was about to retire, and unlike my ride with the Blues he took it very easy on my that day. We only pulled about 5 G’s. He even let me fly the jet at one point! The control stick is to the right of your seat, and you put your hand around it like you would a joy stick for an old Atari game (if you’re old enough to remember those). Then Col. Koch instructed me to pull back. We began to do a 360 degree loop where the jet goes nose up, then upside down, back around the backside, and back up again. I flew the jet all the way through the entire loop pulling about 4 G’s. There was so much power and steadiness but raw energy and combustion. It’s like no other feeling in the world, and I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to fly a jet! Whoa…it’s just crazy! After that flight, I got out of the jet feeling great, walked away, had some lunch, and shared my story. It was not that easy with the Blues!!
Now with the Blues, you don’t get “Egress” or 75 pounds of gear! Nope! You get a 10 minute lesson from the Blue Angel Lead Mechanic on the “Hook Method”. They give you a flimsy Blue Angels suit, and inside the jet there are two straps that go over your legs. You take your hands and turn them up, sliding them under the straps and grab on. Then you breathe in deep, hold your breathe, say “HOOK” while grunting. WEIRD right?! But this stops the blood from rushing to your head so you don’t pass out as they begin maneuvers like the Split S and the Carrier Break Turn.
THIS was my pilot! Lt. Dan Martin #7….meeeooow!
I pulled 7.1 G’s that day! The pilot starts you out easy maneuvers like the loop that I did with Col. Koch. That’s an easy 4 G’s. It doesn’t mess with you too much. During each maneuver, you are hooking with all your might to stay awake. Then we go into a Split S which is the start of a loop then you pull quickly out causing about 6 G’s. This is when you start to feel a little woozy. So we did some cloud surfing and sight seeing for a while. Then he prepped me for the “Carrier Break Turn”. This is the one like you see in Top Gun where the jet approaches the Carrier, but something goes wrong with the landing and you have to pull off to the right or left the bottom of the jet into the wind. The carrier break turn ain’t no joke y’all!
So Lt. Martin prepared me for the Carrier Break turn. He said, “now give me the best Hook you’ve got and don’t stop”. So we go into the maneuver, and I was hooking with all my might. Then he pulls hard off to the right, and I feel this grey matter almost like a circle closing in around my eyes. It felt GOOD! All the sudden I was on a beach and the pilot was carrying me across the sand. Then I hear, “DeAnna, are you awake? DeAnna, you’re ok”. I passed out! It was only for about 2 seconds, but yup he got me! You think it’s going to hurt. Oh no, when that blood rushes to your head it feels soooooo lovely! Yeooowww! Kinda like when they give you the gas at the dentist! Yes honey, it’s like that kind of good!
I got to meet the entire team at a wrap up party later that week. The entire experience was one of the best of my entire life! The Blue Angels are incredibly disciplined, intelligent, and kind people. They are the best the Navy and Marines have to offer. To even be considered you have to be in the top 3 percent with your physical screenings. Then you attend Blue Angel functions and gathering with the current team. It’s almost like a fraternity mixer to see how you get along with the other guys. You only make the team when everyone on the current team signs off on you. It has to be unanimous.
When I hear the sound of the F-A/18 Hornets on Sunday, I will probably get a tear in my eye remembering my time with them. But I will get emotional too, because whenI hear those jets I know we live in the land of the free! Those jets are the sound of freedom to me! Thank you Blue Angels for all that you do! May God bless you and your families! Welcome back to Seattle! We love you!