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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedAfter aerobatic flight, reporter hooked
By Kristy Hemp, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Steve Schulte

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 experience. 

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 prepare? 

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 flight. 

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 experience. 

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 commute. 

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 seat.

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 to aviation.

“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!

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