Up, Up and Away

My senior prom – a weekend of dancing and beach time – culminated with a trip to the movies and the viewing of the new film, “Top Gun”. The movie told the story of a group of students at an elite US Flying school for advanced fighter pilots, starring Tom Cruise as “Maverick”. Somewhere in there, they sprinkled in a love story but it was the flying sequences that stuck with me. I always wondered what it would be like to fly with the so-called “Best of the best”. The memories have stayed with me ever since.

20 years later, I finally got my chance to be “Maverick”. The Blue Angels touched down in Pittsburgh and gave the local media a sneak peak of their show. Originally, Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to fly with the Angels, but you know what happened to him. Then, coach Cowher was invited but the Blue Angels tell me there was a sudden Steelers “lockdown” on dangerous activities so the coach took a pass. Guess it was the media’s turn to play guinea pig.

I admit I was nervous while heading to the 911th Airlift Wing, but I calmed my nerves somewhat by playing the “Top Gun” soundtrack CD. Just hearing the songs transported me to a place and time in my life of great memories and suddenly I felt like I was Tom Cruise.

The movie proved to be the reference point for our crew chief who explained to us what would take place during the flight in a briefing. Basically, we were told not to touch anything and be sure to keep breathing – and listen to our pilot.

Flying the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet was Lt. Kevin Davis ( codename: Kojak ). He has family in the area and proved to be a very reassuring voice for the flight. He told me our flight pattern would be from the airport to Punxsutawney and would last 45 minutes, allowing us to experience everything this jet could do – at speeds up to 700 miles per hour.

Once I was strapped into the co-pilot seat, I was ready to go and felt a sudden sense of excitement. I was ready to experience the ride of my life. Lt. Davis started down the runway and asked if I was ready to go. I said “Hit it”! He suddenly did what is a called a low transition, high performance climb. Essentially we went down the runway and suddenly went straight up about 8,000 feet in mere seconds.

I was screaming – but screams of joy – and that would continue for the rest of our flight. We did turns and rollovers and even flew inverted. The whole time, I was so amazed by the view and the moves; I had no time to worry about life and death.

By the time we landed, I was exhausted. I felt like I had been running a marathon. That’s the physical toll your body takes when you are doing these kinds of aerial maneuvers.

I will be doing a story on my wild ride, but mere video cannot adequately describe what it’s like to be in that plane and be able to do all those amazing things – and not throw up. Now Kelly Frey and myself have made history – the first anchor team in Pittsburgh to have flown with the Blue Angels.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Click here to watch Andrew’s ride with the Angels.

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