Thursday, April 24, 2014

Flying with the Big Boys!

This article was published in August 2000 in Orange County's Coast Magazine in the US,
California for my monthly adventure column called ‘What’s a Girl to Do?’

The word’s out. The phones are ringing.

My accountant, Scott, called. ‘What’s the girl doing this time?’ I told him about Air Combat USA, located in Fullterton, CA. Told him this girl – now calling herself ‘Killer Bee’ – was going to be a fighter pilot for a day, flying an Italian-made Marchetti. Not in some simulation room, but in the skies high about the Pacific Ocean, in a half-million dollar fighter plane. Scott groaned with envy.

‘I’m too cool’ I told him. But when I drove into Air Combat USA’s parking lot, I froze. Was I nuts? Me, flying a fighter plane? Performing aerial dogfights? Dealing with G-forces rather than G-spots?

Since my first airline flight at the age of five, when the pilot showed my father and me the cockpit, I yearned to be not the stewardess, but the pilot. Life, however, hadn’t cooperated…until now. I just couldn’t chicken out. So, taking a deep breath I sauntered into the Operations Office and greeted the instructor in charge with ‘Kill Bee, here, ready for combat.’

Brian Murphy, former Marine fighter pilot, laughed and shook my hand firmly. ‘This is your opponent,’ he said, turning to a teenager next to him.

Our eyes locked.

‘I’m Boomer’, the boy said quietly. A 17-year-old Boy Scout, Boomer told me he had just earned his Eagle Scout Badge.

Intimidate the enemy. ’Nice going,’ I said, ‘but up there, kid, you’re just another bulls-eye, another ‘lock on’ waiting to happen.

Boomer took a step back. Murph laughed and ushered us into the briefing room where he instructed us on formation flying, gun sight tracking, basic fighter maneuvers, rules of engagement for safety, egressing the aircraft and G forces (-3 to +6). He spoke concisely, using toy jets as visual aids. I concentrated, but all I heard was, ‘Blah, blah…blah, blah…’

Finally Murph said, ‘Be aggressive. Keep sight of the other aircraft at all times – lose sight, lose the fight. Speed is life. And above all…look cool.’ I didn’t know about ‘slice’ turns, but I could look cool.

‘Dooley’ Jackson, Boomer’s instructor, popped into the briefing room. ‘Everyone ready for some eye-waterin’-G-pullin’ dogfights?

My stomach took a nosedive. So much for cool.

We zipped into our flight suits, donned parachutes, and life vests and headed for the aircraft. Once buckled in, Dooley yelled over at me from Boomer’s plane. ‘Killer Bee, what’s this?’ He held out his hand. It shook in mock nervousness, nice and slow, as a smirk of good-old-boy intimidation spread across his face.


Controlled fear,’ he said.

Be aggressive.

‘What’s this mean?’ I gave him my best beauty pageant wave.


‘Bye-bye Dooley!’

Sitting next to me, Murph roared. ‘Killer Bee scores!’ After the equipment check, Murph revved the engine and taxied down the runway. He gave a thumbs-up and we took off. I suddenly felt wild, courageous and very feminine, which was odd since it was such a macho thing I was doing. Perhaps it was because I felt so very alive. At least until I heard Murph say, ‘Are you ready to take the controls?’

My mouth went desert-dry. ‘Sure,’ I said, death-gripping the joystick. A little wobbly at first, I managed to hold the Marchetti steady. We practiced until Murph gave me a ‘Fight’s on’ hand signal. Panic time, I craned my neck looking for the other aircraft. ‘What am I supposed to do?’

‘Coming at us,’ Murph yelled.

I forgot everything I ever knew about anything.

‘Roll left.’

I did.

‘Push. Push.’

I did.

We did a slice turn, rolled upside down, did a ‘low Yo-yo’…and there they were. The enemy. In my gunsight. I grinned an evil grin and squeezed the trigger. White smoke streamed from their aircraft.

‘Killer Bee scores!’ Murph high-fived me then signaled to level my wings. Thirty seconds later he signaled again. ‘Fight’s on!’

I rolled right, then pulled up. The place slowed.  Speed is life. Push. Push. The nose dove. We picked up speed. But it was too late. A loud buzzer sounded. Smoke filled the cockpit.

We were dead.

Murph opened the bubble canopy to let the smoke out, the gave the ‘fight’s on!’ signal. (Hey, what happened to relaxing, having a smoke afterwards?)

This time I saw Boomer coming. I rolled left and stayed with him canopy to canopy heading toward the hard deck (the ocean). I grunted through 30 seconds of 4.5Gs, pushed against forces that shoved me deep into my seat. But I stayed on him, matching his wing position.

The sparkling Pacific glared up at us. Murph yelled, ‘Go vertical!’

Pull. Pull. Up we went, and suddenly, the in my gunsight, was Boomer. I squeezed the trigger.

White smoke!

Final tally: Killer Bee 3, Boomer 3.

During the flight back, Dooley brought his plane into formation so close I saw Boomer’s grin.

I radioed Boomer, ‘Nice flying, kid.’

‘Thanks,’ he said. Then his grin disappeared. There was a flash of blue – the infamous blue barf bag – and even through his sun visor, I saw Boomer’s face change from flushed red to sickly green.

I turned away and smiled.

Make that: Killer Bee 4, Boomer 3.
Me, in the cockpit of the Marchetti.
 Photo by Joanne Arnett

Below photos taken from Air Combat USA website.
White smoke!

Lose sight, lose the fight.

High over the Pacific Ocean.

Check out Air Combat USA for your own dogfight!
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