Sentinel’s top gun heads into wild blue yonder

GRETEL DAUGHERTY/The Daily Sentinel—Daily Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton listens to pre-flight instructions as he sits strapped into the rear seat of the F/A-18 Hornet flown by Navy Lt. Mark Tedrow.

Yesterday, I put my lips around the fire hose of awesome and opened the valve all the way.

I flew in a U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A 18 Hornet.

Lt. Mark Tedrow taxied this airplane — really just a pair of small wings atop two jet engines producing 17,000 pounds of force each — to the end of the runway.

“Okay, Jay. Are you ready? I’m going to light the afterburner and we’ll be on our way.”

The jet started forward like any other commercial jet I had been on. Then, a power I had never experienced kicked in. And more so. And more. The power poured on. It felt like I had stepped into an empty elevator shaft.

Gear up, we were at 300 knots and barely 50 feet above the ground.

“Are you ready to ‘hick’?” Lt. Tedrow asked. “Hicking” is a way of keeping blood in your head during extreme gravity maneuvers by flexing muscles in your legs, taking a three-quarter breath, and exhaling with a “hick” sound.

“Flex your legs, here we go.” At 300 knots, Lt. Tedrow took the plane vertical. In an instant, we were at 5,400 feet.

That short maneuver took us to six times the force of gravity. My 180 pounds felt like 1,080.

Blood finally out of my socks and back in my brain, we were soon on a smooth westward course. It was smooth until I mentioned that we were flying near my house. Lt. Tedrow turned the aircraft on its side so quickly and yet so gracefully, I instantly had a sense of what kind of performance this fighter/attack jet was made for.

After testing my tolerance for sustained G-forces, Lt. Tedrow took us through the Colorado River basin at 300 knots, banking through the winding turns of the river. This was the fist-pumping thrill of a lifetime.

Terrain on three sides of the plane whizzed by at an unfathomable pace, seemingly a hundred feet or so from our wingtips.

The F/A-18 Hornet, painted Blue Angels blue, looks predatory on the tarmac. The angles of this beautiful machine are supersonic sitting still.

And here we were, cutting though terrain that may as well be Afghanistan at an unbelievable pace. I realized at that moment that we were flying in a weapon — an incredible instrument of war created for and dedicated to protecting the United States.

I was so proud — and strangely relieved — to be an American.

I have little sympathy at this moment for the nitwit class burning American flags and rioting in the Middle East. But I would feel sorry for anyone encountering the business end of a U.S. Navy F/A 18 with Lt. Tedrow behind the controls.

At no time did this flight experience leave the “extreme” category. In addition to what felt like dogfighting through the turns of the Colorado River basin, we experienced barrel rolls, a complete loop, inverted flight, zero gravity, negative gravity, a near-stall-120-knot float, and finally, a “carrier brake.”

In real life, a carrier brake is a maneuver pilots use to slow their aircraft before landing on the small confines of an aircraft carrier. In the context of the Blue Angels flight experience for schmoes like me, the carrier brake is a way of leaving a punctuating mark at the end of the flight experience. We flew by the airport at a significant clip, then Lt. Tedrow put the fighter into a hard bank. I “hicked” my hardest, but the walls started to close in on me at 6.8 G-forces.

Lt. Tedrow took pity on me and brought the jet back to zero Gs. Instantly, my vision returned.

The flight ended with the softest landing I’ve ever had, but the quantum of awesome the U.S. Navy delivered yesterday was more than I ever imagined possible.

Are there toxic adrenaline levels? Oofta.


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