Don’t puke. That’s pretty much what I said to myself repeatedly in the 24-hour build up to the absolute craziest thing I have ever done. Puking is probably my least favorite activity on this planet. And I hate doing it with an audience, in this case one that included several cameras and a world-champion pilot.
On that front, mission accomplished. Flying 15,000 feet above the air in a stunt plane with twice the power of an F-16 was without a doubt the coolest thing imaginable. And Red Bull athlete Kirby Chambliss, a certified LEGEND in his field, was the best tour guide possible. Keeping my (very small) breakfast with me the entire time was just an added bonus.
Before you start thinking I was meant to be a world-famous aviation superstar, let me tell you what did happen. A few minutes in I absolutely passed out. You can watch for yourself HERE. Kirby told me this is what you call a “G-induced pass-out.” My body was adjusting to pressure it hadn’t felt before, and went dark to cope. My memory of this incident is limited, but I do remember being absolutely focused on telling Kirby that I was doing just fine when I finally started seeing in color again. I was not letting him turn that plane around.
Thank goodness I didn’t, because I’m still pumped about the experience. It was everything I thought it would be and more. The adrenaline was epic and the sensations were simply insane. More than a week later, I still can’t stop thinking about a few of the things that really stood out. Some top-level takeaways included:
1) Vision: I couldn’t believe how much I could see and what it all looked like. The world from that elevation with a full field of vision – think clear canopy rather than tiny commercial airline window – seems limitless. The colors pop and the buildings look like claymation props. It’s basically like a real life 4K experience with the full Photoshop treatment.
2) Power: The plane is powerful, the stunts are powerful … everything is powerful. Flying with Kirby taught me that there are two types of Gs: the ones for amateurs and the ones that make you feel like the entire world is exploding around you or from you. And the latter are really awesome!
3) Exploration: To this day, flying is still about pushing limits and trying new things. Kirby pulled some impressive stunts with me in the plane, including a pretty famous one from “Top Gun.” Somebody had to get in the air and experiment before all of these became standard tricks. And everyone involved with Red Bull Air Race – from pilots to crew – seems to embrace the fun and creativity of the craft.
4) Safety: It feels extremely safe, because it is. Red Bull Air Race has a fantastic safety record and goes to great lengths to ensure everyone from pilots to staff to spectators have a worry-free experience. And when it comes to flying as an amateur, it doesn’t get better than going up with Kirby. He’s the best at what he does and makes you feel confident from the start.
My advice: if you ever get a chance to do something similar, do it. #YOLO.
And in the meantime, check out the first Red Bull Air Race at IMS on Oct. 1-2. These guys are exceptionally talented, unbelievably dedicated and fantastically thrilling to watch. It’s gonna be one heck of a weekend at IMS.