Monday, July 25, 2011

“Standby hack, let’s hack now.” Russ Quinn had just given me my 32-second warning, and I counted to myself, one, two, and then I pressed my stopwatch and watched the second hand begin to sweep. I pushed the throttle on my beautiful red, white, and blue F- 16 forward slightly and lowered the nose gently while pulling her into a slow left arc. I had done this hundreds of times in practice, and now it was showtime. “Ninety to the line,” came Russ’s next command. I breathed deeply on my oxygen mask and checked my stopwatch and my orientation to the show line. I was exactly 10 seconds into the maneuver and precisely 90 degrees to the line (meaning my jet was perpendicular to the show line just as we had practiced). That gave me 20 seconds to get to my next checkpoint. I pushed the throttle forward a bit further, felt the acceleration, and continued to pull my fighter through her left turn; now the adrenaline began to pulse. My breathing quickened ever so slightly as I searched for my references on the ground, watched my airspeed build, and waited for Russ’s next call. I was now at 125 feet above the ground, 425 knots, accelerating. “Knife-edge,” came the radio call from Russ.

“Knife-edge,” I yelled into my oxygen mask, indicating that I was on time and exactly two miles away from show center. I pushed the throttle to full military power, accelerated to 475 knots, and looked for Russ.

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