Air Combat USA – No Food Up Here
The kernel of this blog revolves around experience – travel, food, and education. Since quitting my job, I’ve began crossing things off of the lifetime to-do list: Drive across country in my 700hp 911 Turbo – highly recommended. Watch a 9-hour staging of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia – amazing. Embark on a truffle expedition to French 2- and 3-star restaurants – do more research next time. Read the entire Thomas Pynchon canon (and thoroughly understand it) – still working on it. Force myself into the best shape of my life – did it but still dramatically improving. Driving, eating, reading, but what about the air?
AirCombat USA bills itself as a dog fighting school where anyone can jump in a plane and fight! The videos looked intense with promises of 4G’s+. After a half-hour instruction on dog-fighting basics, you get paired with an instructor, throw on a parachute, and jump into a plane. Fly out to a desolate patch of air, run through the maneuvers taught in the class, and then engage in a few dogfights. Sounds like fun.
The airplane was a Marchetti SF-260, capable of pulling up to 6 G’s. They are the go-karts of the flying world – raw and unforgiving – they do what you tell it to. NATO fighters brush their skills up in them while poorer countries defend their air space with the nimble machines.
The videos in no way capture the exhilaration of the experience. It looks as if I’m on a casual Sunday morning flight but there’s extreme stress on the body during most of the videos. First, I’m usually upside down (or on my way to becoming upside down.) Your eye must always be on the target and for that reason, I’m never looking straight – your opponent is always somewhere your head can’t easily bend! (Which becomes even harder when you’re upside down.) Notice that my arm is always braced against a support bar; if not for the bar, I would be flying all over the cockpit. You can’t see the abdomen flex; the abdomen must be flexed at all times to keep the blood from pouring out of the head (which would result in blacking out.) When that becomes too much, there’s butt flex, anything to keep the blood in the upper part of your body and to prevent black out. Finally, you have NO IDEA what’s happening! The instructor is barking out orders – LEFT RIGHT DOWN UP RIGHT – at such an alarming rate that you completely lose all sense of direction and altitude.
The planes seem to defy all laws of physics. The movements are not fluid as one might expect; instead, the plane seems to jump from Point A to Point B. It’s very angular in feeling as the wind bounces the plane around. Small adjustments of the flying stick result in very large movements of the plane. The plane will aim straight up, dive straight down, fly upside down, all within seconds of the former. Up, Down, Left, More, Up, Right, Easy, Down! Before you know it, you are flying upside down, barrel rolls, end over end rolls, and sometimes – free-fall spins!
Was this experience worth the $1000 cost? Absolutely. Everyone should try it once. The physical exhilaration was unlike any car or roller coaster. The strain could be felt throughout the body, particularly the head, eyes, abdomen, and behind. The mental barrage – unparalleled – far too many inputs for a first-timer. The plane and action moved too fast for me to visualize my actions in three-dimensional space. Your body pushed to its limits.
Where does one go from here? AirCombat USA has more advanced classes but I need something more daring – a Russian MiG. Unfortunatly, its $10k price tag can buy a fair number of meals.