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Andrew Giddings' Diary - October 2003
I would like to introduce you to some people…….
These are my excellent friends, Commander Craig ‘Bastos’ Miller, Navy pilot and American Airlines Captain with his lovely wife Kathleen…………………….this is Lt. Craig ‘Merlin’ Olsen, Navy Pilot with the Blue Angels Navy Air Display Team.
This is a Blue Angels F/A 18 Hornet…………….………this is a piano player in the back of Blue Angels F/A 18 #7.
You can see a story unfolding, right?
So, back-tracking a little, Craig Miller and I have known each other for a few years and when we get the chance we go messing around in the sky. At the beginning of the US tour we took up a Cessna 172 from John Wayne Airport, Orange County and went for a buzz round Catalina Island, just a few miles off the coast of southern CA. What a fabulous afternoon that was. Once the marine layer had cleared it was perfect flying weather.
A few days later and the tour had taken us further east, and one afternoon and in true rock ‘n’ roll style I was having a gourmet room service lunch with spring water and coffee when I got a call from Craig saying, “Call this number, and do it quick!”
I replaced the t.v. set that I had ready to hurl out of the window and called Lt. Mike Blankenship, Public Affairs Officer with the Blue Angels Navy Air Display Team. It turned out that the Blue Angels were due to display at the Cleveland Airshow the day of the Tull show and thanks to Craig I was going to be a passenger! Can you even imagine? Do you know what a plane-nut I am?
So the scene is set.
I took the crewbus overnight from Fort Wayne and arrived at the venue in Cleveland the next morning in time for breakfast. I’d been briefed on what to eat and what not to eat, so tucked into a dry English muffin…………..yum. I was getting very excited by now. I took a shower, had a coffee and then it was time to head off to the Burke Lake Airport where the Blue Angels were due to practice. I arrived early and met Craig and Kathleen in the terminal. We watched #7 testing, the plane I was going to be in. It was all going so well, the fantastic sound of jet engines and the smell of jet fuel, and then the storms came. It poured, rumbled, blew and it didn’t look like it was going to go over very quickly. There were long faces everywhere and the talk was of a huge storm cell due to hit the area. Nevertheless it was time for my pre-flight briefing. I was led into a room to be briefed on the demo I was about to get and the curious ‘hook’ or ‘hick’ procedure, which is a bizarre combo of breathing out and forcing blood into your head at the same time. Oh, and continuing to breathe! This process helps keep you awake when pulling positive Gs, otherwise all the blood leaves you head and you black out.
the briefing there was a break in the weather and I wrestled with the
flight suit I had been given and finally got it to fit, kind of. There
was excitement in the air about the weather being good to fly and before
I knew it I was walking across the tarmac towards one of the most awesome
machines ever built.
Sean tries to coax my ears into the helmet!
Once I’m firmly in place with all my harnesses on, my Pilot Lt. Craig Olsen joins me in the cockpit.
Time to start those fabulous engines, lower the canopy and taxi to hold.
Instruments are online and it’s throttle forward, after burners on and it’s a VFR departure on runway 6 left……
The view from the cockpit of an F/A 18 is breathtakingly panoramic, which is actually pretty handy if you’re being chased by an enemy or a missile in wartime.
We were to head out over Lake Erie to begin our maneuvers:
An afterburner takeoff into a low transition, getting a bag of knots, then a hard left turn, out to the working area.
A "full-up" performance demo flight:
-- High Alpha demo. Extremely slow-speed (90 to 100 knots), high angle of attack demonstration, using only rudders to turn the jet
-- Inverted flight
-- Aileron rolls
-- Barrel Roll
-- Half Cuban Eight
-- Split S
-- 7.2G pull straight up into the vertical with victory rolls in the pure vertical, then rolling inverted pulling down to the horizon and rolling upright.
-- Return to field for Carrier Break.
whole sequence was filmed from the cockpit.
If you watch the video you will see me pulling some of the strangest faces I’ve ever pulled, and that’s saying something! I look pretty nervous, obviously, but Lt. Olsen was monitoring me via rear-view mirrors the whole time, and while the Gs were bearable, the rotation was quite disorientating! I embarrassed myself by ‘looking into the bag’ a couple of times but kept my breakfast! An hour later after I had been well and truly thrown around and exposed to 7.2 positive G it was time to head back to the field where there was one maneuver left, the Carrier Break. This is a maneuver that is performed each time an aircraft returns to the carrier in daylight. Normally it would break left but due to ATC we broke right. During the demo I experienced tunnel vision and mild nausea but the Carrier Break caused me to lose a couple of seconds of my day. We only pulled 4 Gs but it must have been the culminate affect of the aerobatics……..woohoo!
Lt Olsen flips out the speed break, lowers the flaps and gear for landing at around 140 knots.
Just a tad light-headed and a little wobbly on my legs I was welcomed back by the Blue Angels Squadron for a presentation.
So, what d’ya think of that? A piano player from a tiny island off Old Europe riding with the elite Navy Air Display Team, The Blue Angels! The planning and logistics that go into a tour by the Angels is meticulous and flawless. A truly awesome collection of pilots, Technicians, Medics and Public liason.
Blue Angels are currently on tour across the
It just remains for me to thank a few people:
Craig Miller for fixing the whole thing up, his lovely wife Kathleen, Lt. Mike Blankenship for working to my schedule, Lt. Craig Olsen for his outrageous precision in the air, and all of the fabulous Blue Angels team!
Well I hope any fellow aviation fans aren’t too jealous! It is an experience that will I will talk about ad nauseam until I fall over! Next diary update will be more Tull related! Thank you for indulging me, lovely readers!
Talk to you soon,
Andrew. September 8 2003
watch the cockpit video of Andy's flight
month Andy reviews...
flying on a F-18
learn more about the U.S. Navy Blue Angels
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