What happens when you send a KATU producer in a stunt plane?
I don't get out much in my line of work. My job as a news producer (I'm the person putting together the 6 p.m. news) requires me to sit in front of a computer all day. What's worse, I work in the windowless newsroom here at KATU. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be offered the chance to fly in the Air National Guard's aerobatic plane.
Simply put, it was the ride of a lifetime.
It all happened so fast, really. Before I knew it, some man I'd just met was strapping a parachute on my back and buckling me into a stunt plane that weighs less than a Toyota Prius. Once I was given a quick tutorial on how to unlatch myself and pull the rip cord, (God forbid) we were on our way.
My pilot, Lieutenant Colonel John Klatt, was at the controls behind me. What a consummate professional. With more than 20 years in the Air National Guard, he's flown all over the world and in all different types of aircraft - massive transport planes like the C-130 Hercules as well as F-16 fighter jets in combat missions.
This day, we were in the Guard's EXTRA 300L. Take-off was less terrifying than I expected. Smooth and steady; nothing to it.
What I didn't expect was how close we'd fly to two other planes. One was carrying my photographer Sean - just ahead of us to our left - and a similar stunt plane flown by Kirby Chambliss was just behind us to our right.
The space between each plane? About 5 feet.
I asked John if we were supposed to be that close. "Oh yeah, we're all just one big family," he said.
We headed west because we needed to get over a more rural area before the stunts could begin. Once we were above Hagg Lake, it was time for a seat belt check then upside down we went.
Flying inverted 3,000 feet above the Earth while going a 120 miles per hour is intense. I screamed like a girl. But that's okay, I am one.
The ride only intensified from there. We did aileron rolls. Lots of them. In a row.
John even let me take the controls and do my own roll. It was surprisingly easy, but that didn't make it any less frightening.
Next up: the loops, or at least one loop and a second falling/spinning/free-fall maneuver. The G-forces were powerful, pinning me to my seat and taking my breath away.
After all that, I called it quits. I was nauseous and ready for some solid ground.
Even though I got sick and at times appeared to be afraid for my life, I'm so glad I didn't chicken out. It was an experience I'll never forget. And if I had to do it again, my unequivocal answer would be yes - in a heart beat.