Photo by Steve
August 2, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin
- An invitation earlier this week to fly with Major John Klatt of the
Air National Guard’s “Guarding America, Defending Freedom” aerobatic
team in his Extra 300L gave me a few days to think about the coming
After the reality sank in of what was coming—and
my breathing resumed— questions started racing through my mind.
What to eat for breakfast? How to
How extreme will this be? Please don’t let
me swear on the cockpit video… 20g’s—what!?
As word spread of my approaching flight,
advice started coming in. One person advised me to say the word “hook”
while we pulled g’s to constrict my throat and keep the blood in my
head. Another said a banana tastes the same going down as it does coming
back up; someone suggested it would be fun to drink cherry Kool-aid before
The morning of my flight, I met Klatt and his
crew, who briefed me on the flight, helped me into my parachute and
strapped me down tight to the front seat.
I wasn’t going anywhere. The cockpit sports
grab bars on either side that very soon would come in very handy.
And a photo plane would record my
We flew a formation takeoff, my first time in
formation flight. The planes seemed awfully close; but that was nothing
compared to what was coming.
As for the knot that grew feverishly in my
stomach leading up to this flight— ironically, it went away as soon as
we were in the air.
Klatt asked if I was strapped in tight,
prompting me to ratchet down my harness a couple more times.
Before this flight, I wondered whether my
usually steady stomach might finally meet its breaking point.
My breakfast that morning was a banana, as
recommended, and a granola bar. I said to myself ‘this is it’ and then
Klatt said, “OK, we’re going to go upside down now.”
It was the best view I ever had of Oshkosh…and
I felt great.
We flew inverted for what seemed like minutes
to shoot the photos. To distract myself from the heavy feeling of blood
rushing to my head, I scanned the ground for the route of my morning
Photo by Steve Schulte
Kristy Hemp, a private pilot, takes an upside down view when Maj.
John Klatt flies his Extra 300L inverted.
On our next maneuver we climbed up to about
5,500 msl. At altitude, the temperature drop made the cockpit feel like
the air conditioning was running and it made the ride very comfortable.
We started out with some gentle rolls. To my
surprise, they were very soothing, and it was a very peaceful maneuver.
Klatt always asked how I was doing through
each maneuver. Everything was going great, but I did make sure my “relief
bag” was still tucked into my harness— just in case.
He took me through barrel rolls, loops with a
roll at the top, more inverted flying— but this time tucked in close to
our photo plane. This is where my grab bars came in very handy.
Through the aerobatic sequences, Klatt would
say “Hang on!” or “It’s crazy isn’t it?” and “You’re
getting the ride of your life.”
I certainly was, and then some.
At one point during a maneuver, when he was
asking me how I was doing, I went for the push-to-talk switch and couldn’t
lift that hand, then I thought I’d try a “thumbs up,” and wasn’t
having any luck there, either.
So I went with the head nod.
I later found out that we were pulling 4 to 5g’s
in some of those maneuvers. Klatt’s plane is capable of pulling +/- 20g’s,
which is twice the load of his daily driver, an F-16 he flies with the
148th Fighter Wing of the Duluth, Minnesota Air National Guard. We topped
out at 180 mph but the Extra 300L is capable of approximately 250 mph.
Then Klatt asked how I was feeling and if I
wanted to fly. I think everyone out there knows what my answer was!
I took the stick for a bit, and then, to my
further delight, Klatt thought we should try a hammerhead.
It seemed like I became one with the front
The maneuver felt like a roller coaster— the
ultimate roller coaster. I adhered to the advice I was given earlier, and
as Klatt said “3-2-,” I said “hook,” and clenched my body. I found
myself thinking, “I’d like to try that again!”
On the way back, we talked about our families
and learned that we had something in common: our dads introduced us both
“My dad was a jet mechanic and used to take
me to air shows, including EAA’s, as a kid.” Klatt said, and then
added, “I want to continue that tradition with my son Daniel.
“Life has come full circle.”
We also talked about how he got to this point
in his career. “I joined the guard after college, and I wish I had known
about it before because of the opportunities and benefits they offer,”
John explained. “I feel blessed to be an air show pilot with the Guard
and it’s a gift to be at AirVenture.”
My thrill ride came to a beautiful end as we
flew over show center. I had a priceless view the AirVenture grounds. Once
we landed, I let out a “Whooohooo!”
Ironically, the first time I felt woozy came
after the flight ended, as I stepped out and removed my parachute. Klatt
suggested an air show performer career in my future.
I don’t know about that, but I would fly
with him any day!