Thursday, September 10, 2015

RECOUNT: My first flight was with the Blue Angels!

I’ve never been on an airplane before. Not until recently that is.
Always one to jump in feet first and ask questions later, I was offered the opportunity to fly in the Blue Angels support plane, the C-130T Hercules “Fat Albert.”
PHOTOS: Herndon's adventure with the "Fat Albert" crew.
While it’s not one of the fighter jets, it’s a plane nearly as impressive--maybe more so. the pilots and crew on this flight aren’t worried about just themselves and possibly a passenger, but sometimes dozens of others.
As the weeks turned to days, turned to hours, to minutes, my anxiety level got higher. I should have bought a ticket and flown somewhere, just so that it wasn’t my first flight.
I shouldn’t have agreed to go on the flight at all.
Why am I doing this again? I kept thinking.
But the experience was just too cool to pass up.
After what seemed like hours of waiting after check-in, a women in a Blue Angels jumpsuit emerged from the building we were standing near. My heart skipped a beat, realizing this was the moment.

She came over and gave us the first of four pre-flight briefings, making sure to mention we’d all be provided with air-sickness bags.
Next we moved a few hundred feet down and spoke with a flight engineer. He also mentioned the air sickness bag.
Good thing I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours.
After his briefing, we were allowed to walk down to see “Bert.” A truly impressive plane. We were given another quick briefing, and then turned loose to explore the massive jet.
We were not only given permission, but encouraged to shoot photos and video of the experience.
For about 15 minutes or so a group of military personnel and other members of the media were given miniature tours, posed for selfies and enjoyed scoping out the aircraft.
The pilots arrive.
I’m rarely awestruck, given the opportunity to meet and chat with people from all walks of life in my career, but this was something special.
We were allowed to listen in on the pilot briefing the crew for the day’s mission, which he spoke with such confidence and speed most of what I heard I still haven’t deciphered.
Then he turned to us and explained what he had said in terms I could understand.
The gist of it, we were going to go really fast. So fast that we would feel multiple G-forces on take off, and on the turns, and also experience weightlessness in Zero-G.
We’d be going over 300 knots, and taking off at about a 45 degree angle.
We boarded the plane for the last time, I sat between another member of the press and an female airman stationed at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.
Time to strap in.
Before the plane started moving she pulled out her air sickness bag.
I leaned over and told her that if she needed it, I might too. As I got mine out, I told her it was the first time I’d ever been in a plane.
Her face got ghost white. I can only imagine how many ways in which she pictured me evacuating my stomach contents.
Then she started telling everyone on her left about my first flight.
We started taxiing down the runway. I got out my phone and tweeted a quick goodbye to everyone, just in case.
And suddenly I felt like I weighed 1,000 pounds. With the G-forces I probably did, then just as quickly I was floating.
This went on for the next four hours, the constant lurching and pull of gravity, then floating and repeating.
One thing that didn’t happen, I never used the bag.
Oh, and the flight was only actually about eight minutes long. Longest, and shortest eight minutes of my life.
Then we were on the ground, the rear cargo door opened and we got to see as the Blue Angel jets taxied down the runway.
I survived.
OK I was never really that nervous about surviving, but I was anxious about not being “the guy” who needed to use the air sickness bag.
Once back on the ground the captain quickly gave us a rundown of what we’d done, posed for photos with anyone who wanted one, and then made himself and the crew available for interviews.
I pulled out my phone and noticed that he had favorited my tweet, not long after I’d sent it.
That’s right, while I was in the back worried about the flight, he was hanging out on Twitter.

Glad I hadn’t noticed that then, I might have jumped out the back!

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