04/26/09 — Two more soar high with Angels

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Two more soar high with Angels

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 26, 2009 2:00 AM

For Bill Bryan and Dan Jackson, being suited up to soar with the Blue Angels only to be grounded because of the weather was kind of like waving candy in front of child only to tell him he cannot have it.

However, Wednesday's disappointment vanished in a split second Friday morning when the blue F-18A Super Hornet, seconds after lifting off the tarmac at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, went vertical and quickly vanished into the bright blue skies.

The Blue Angels performed yesterday and will perform again today during the annual Wings Over Wayne air show at the base.

Bryan, president of Mt. Olive Pickle Co., didn't get to be called Pickle 1 and Jackson, owner of Jackson and Sons Heating and Air Conditioning, AC 1, but that was OK.

"I am all about adrenaline and speed," Jackson said prior to his flight. "I am anxious and I am ready to see what it is like -- no second thoughts. I was disappointed Wednesday when the wind got up and I didn't fly then. There has been a lot of anticipation and excitement for the last two days, and I finally get to do it today.

"I want to go full bore. We have family plans so we won't be here for the air show, but if I get a ride in that F18 that will be good enough air show for me."

"It was as cool as cucumber, cooler than a cucumber," Bryan said after the 30-minute flight. "The neat thing is the canopy you can see everything up there. You are just looking, you roll over and you are looking down at the ground. You just have a great view up there. It is perfect. It is quite a rush."

Throwing his head forward and down, Bryan said, "My head just went like that. It was just a quick rush. You accelerate and then you level off in just a couple of seconds. I didn't know what to expect. I have done some roller coasters. It is just awesome. You are up there, you are just trying to hold on, and the pilot is talking to you calmly, executing all of these maneuvers. Then you have this vision of this guy flying 18 inches from another plane doing this kind of thing. It is really amazing what they can do."

"It was awesome, it was just an incredible experience," Jackson said. "Everyone should have the opportunity to do that. I have never experience anything like that in my entire life. It's just awesome.

"The acceleration when we took off and he turned it straight up into the heavens. I can only imagine what astronauts feel like and that is probably not even close to what they are experiencing when they take off. It is very, very physically draining. Those guys' physical condition is phenomenal. They have to be some of the best athletes in the world because I am worn out. I mean I am just physically drained."

Both men pegged the takeoff and vertical climb as their favorite part of the ride.

"The loop was incredible," Jackson said. "The g-forces, though, are quite intense. You have really got to work at it and work at it hard to keep that blood pumping up and into your brain so you can be conscious and keep up with what is going on."

In pre-flight briefing, those flying with the Blue Angels are taught breathing exercises and how to contract their leg and buttock muscles to force blood upwards.

Queasiness was not an issue for either Bryan or Jackson.

The g-force was another issue.

"It was just the physical demands when you get into those 5-7 g's," Jackson said. "Weightlessness was awesome. We experience negative g's, zero gravity that was awesome then we reached 2 g's. It was quite an experience to be hanging upside down in that airplane your legs flopping around. You are strapped down but your legs are loose. My legs were flopping. It was interesting to be in that position."

The flight has changed Jackson's perspective. Asked if he would ever view the pilots in the same way, Jackson said, "No, absolutely not. I will never look at the planes and crew in the same way again. I had absolutely no idea what those pilots go through. I just can't imagine being able to handle the g-forces those guys do and be able to maneuver a plane all at the same time."

Using his hands to demonstrate, Bryan said the pilot had performed loops, rolls and sharp turns.

Bryan said the flight went northwest, but that he had "no clue how far out."

"It'd be good to do it again," he said. "In fact, I would give Julie a rematch."

Bryan was talking about Julie Beck, director of student activities at Mount Olive College, who flew on Wednesday.

After the flight, the gregarious Ms. Beck was "pretty speechless, but she had a big smile when she got through," Bryan said.

"I think the initial rush was really neat," he said. "The pilot was great, very calm telling you what he is going to be doing before he does it, telling you what you need to do. The negative g's -- that was cool. They were neat.

"I am going to see if I can't charter one of these. I bet I could get to my business destinations pretty quickly if I'd hook a ride on one of these."

Both men were headed back to the respective office after their flights.

Bryan said he had a board meeting to attend, but had told the board chairman he might have to miss it in order to fly. The chairman had agreed.

Moreover, after the flight, "Everything the rest of the day is down hill," he said.

"I am sure I will get a lot of questions," he said. "That will be the first order of business and with a couple more hours I will have some great stories. It will get better with each telling."