My inner F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) has struck again.
Last time it reared its ugly head was on New Year's Day, when I ill-advisedly jumped into icy Lake Michigan for the Polar Plunge. This afternoon, I joined the Blue Angels for a ride in "Fat Albert," a 1970s vintage C-130 Hercules, in one of the first official events in this weekend's Air and Water Show.
Despite that fact that I'm generally afraid to fly (though I do), and don't really like the feelings of vertigo associated with roller coasters, I didn't give my invitation to join the U.S. Marines on this mission a second thought.
Maybe I should've.
Even though I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of human flight, I also strive to live a life full of rich experiences, and I know not everyone gets a chance to take part in thrilling trips like the one I was invited to today. My job has allowed me to ride in the back of an Indy car around the Milwaukee Mile and do loops in a World War II vintage biplane. Both of those demos were scary fun, and I expected them to be much more intense than a ride in a giant cargo plane.
I was wrong. Really wrong.
In fact, I'm glad that only a handful of other media were on hand to witness my sweaty, shaky and possibly cowardly display today. What was supposed to be a 10-minute ride lasted about 40 minutes (I think), and while I held my own for the first half an hour, the last few minutes kicked my butt.
For what was not just a demo ride but rather a part of the Air and Water Show, involved periods of weightlessness, steep banks, dives and climbs and some military-grade maneuvers at hundreds of miles per hour at 50 feet above the ground. Without a good view out the window and baking in 90 degree heat, it's not really surprising that I was full-on hyperventilating toward the end.
It started out well enough. The pilots and crew briefed us on what to expect. We'd take off, flying level to the ground, before Fat Albert would punch it and climb 45 degrees toward the sky. That would induce two Gs -- twice normal gravity -- followed by five seconds of total weightlessness. The reverse would happen with a 45-degree dive, then some intense banks and maneuvers over the lakefront, as well as a horizontal run just over the beach. We would repeat this a few times then land on a dime and slam on the brakes.
Knowing this, the beginning of the flight was fun. I felt prepared for the crushing gravity of two Gs, and the weightlessness was cool. We were strapped in, but I still flew a few inches toward the back of the plane (and almost into BizTimes reporter Alysha Schertz' lap), while the support crew flipped around behind us.
When the crew opened the back of the plane, we got a clear view of Downtown, which felt smooth and bucolic -- but hot. Apparently, the extra power needed to fly the plane with rear open meant no air conditioning, and it got very, very stuffy very, very quickly.
When they closed the back door, we lost most of our view of the action, but we could see the pilots had begun some intense maneuvers. The angles, banks, dives and climbs were eight times what we'd ever encounter on a commercial aircraft, they told us, and they were right. While I didn't feel in danger or even scared, the physical vertigo -- combined with the heat and the lack of a view -- was quickly taking its toll on me.
After about a half an hour of this, I noticed my right arm was tingling. That's when I got scared, but I didn't say anything. A few minutes later, my hands started tingling, and I noticed I could barely release the grip on my camera. When my legs joined in the paralysis, I spoke up to a crew member.
He asked if I was nauseous, which I wasn't, but he speculated I might be a little dehydrated -- which would be logical, because I just started on some heavy-duty allergy medicine this week and drank two big cups of Starbucks coffee this morning. Really, though, I was trying to figure out if I was hyperventilating, having a heart attack or going into shock a little bit. For the final few minutes, I jettisoned my pride onto the proverbial tarmac and lied down. It was one of my lesser cool moments in journalism.
While I admit I handled the effects worse than the others aboard, none of our group looked particularly ship-shape right now, and the pilot took pity on us by backing off the very aggressive landing he had planned. Channel 4's Vince Vitrano was as sweaty as I was (but still upright), while Schertz must be a roller-coaster veteran, because she was still smiling. Apparently, I wasn't the first member of the media to get all swoony on one of the rides, and on the ground, a member of the Blue Angels team gave me an ice pack, a bottle of water and told me to breathe deeply. I had definitively hyperventilated myself into a tizzy.
After I wobbled back to my car, I sat in the full-blast air conditioner for a long time before I felt even vaguely safe to drive. I made it home, took a cold shower and lied down for a 30-minute nap. The sensation I'm feeling now is oddly not unlike how I felt after the Polar Plunge. But this time I'm sweaty and hot, not shivering and cold.
What did I learn from this foolish journey? First, the pros who do this every day are no mere mortals. I cannot imagine executing such physically demanding aerobatics in an air show, much less a combat zone. My respect for military pilots and crews is at an all-time high.
Further, I will think twice next time I casually accept an invitation for an activity that flies in the face of remaining in my two favorite positions: on the earth and right side up.
Finally, I'm prepared to admit whether it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience or not, some things are better left to the pros. Yeah, I can now say I "performed" in an air show -- and that's awesome.
But no, I will never do it again.
Your ride sounded a little tough. Now imagine that same ride while wearing a parachute and ruck sack (all of which weighs over 100lbs). That's what it's like being a military paratrooper! Hooah!
Andy, you are 10 steps above me...the second the rear of the plane opened I would have tossed cookies. The fact that you were still (somewhat) upright is pretty impressive.
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