Editors Note: As #avgeeks, we love reading ride and trip reports. Avgeekery.com is proud to share one of the most unique ride reports we’ve seen in a long time. Thanks to LCDR Ben Kohlmann for sharing!
This past Friday, I got the chance of a lifetime – a flight in the backseat of Blue Angel #2, piloted by Navy Lieutenant Commander John Hiltz, during the team’s full practice at the Memphis Airshow. Even though I have over 1200 pilot-in-command hours in nearly all variants of the F/A-18 (A through F), and have over 360 arrested landings on various aircraft carriers, it was still an immense thrill to be up close and personal with the world’s premier jet aerobatic team.
The day could not have been better. The skies were clear, the winds light, and the temperature a mild 68. I started by listening in to the hour long brief. To be honest, they spoke through their maneuvers so quickly I could barely understand what they were saying, but the cohesive nature of the team was evident from the start. This is a group of men that needs precision, and most of all trust, to execute the demanding and crowd-pleasing maneuvers.
As many of you are aware, the Blue Angels do not fly with g-suits, forcing them to contend with up to 7.5 times the force of gravity using physiology and training alone. This would hit me hard – I experienced “G-induced Loss of Consciousness” or “G-LOC” twice throughout the flight, despite my best efforts at the anti-G straining maneuver. Fortunately, I was only out for a few (disoriented) seconds before resuming my enjoyment!
The pictures below tell a much better story than I ever could, but I want to say a few things about my pilot, John Hiltz. He and I have been friends since our days as instructor pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron ONE ZERO ONE based out of Miramar, CA [the former FIGHTERTOWN, USA]. Even more remarkable than his piloting skills is his desire to help others. A few years ago, before he even considered being a Blue Angel, he volunteered to be a bone marrow donor. The week before he was scheduled to do his F/A-18 carrier qualifications, he was asked to save a young man, and did so without hesitation. Even though his dreams of being a carrier aviator were put on hold, he felt compelled to help a complete stranger however he could.
This is a perfect example of how the Blue Angels do far more than simply fly airplanes and awe crowds – they are ambassadors to the community at large. John and his colleagues spend their time visiting schools, inspiring young people, and making dreams come true for Make-a-Wish beneficiaries. They also bridge the growing civil-military divide that besets our nation, even after 13 years of war.
But back to the show. The view is very different from above than the crowdline – and it was a treat to hear John talk through each maneuver over our internal communications system before the team did it live.
Ben “Prof” Kohlmann is a naval aviator currently stationed in Norfolk, VA. He flew F/A-18s with the VFA-41 “Black Aces” and the VMFAT-101 “Sharpshooters.” He is the founding member of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, and chairman of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. The views expressed are his own, and not necessarily representative of the Department of Defense or the United States Navy.