Life Is Full Of Surprises
By William Dyer
Life is full of surprises. A few weeks ago, I found a PM in my FlightSim.Com inbox from one of the administrators at FlightSim.Com named Dan. My first thought was "What did I do now?" Were my privileges going to be revoked? Had I offended someone? Quite the contrary.
Based on one of the posts I had made in the Real World Aviation forums, Dan contacted me about my real world aviation experiences. I sent him a PM explaining that I was not a real-world pilot, but told him of a couple of real world aviation experiences I have had. One of those was a trip to a Top Gun-type fighter school in Denver for my 50th birthday (the year is a secret!). The trip was a surprise planned by my wife. Dan asked if would like to write up an article about my surprise to share it with others who may enjoy hearing what it was about.
On my 50th birthday, my wife, Jean, had told me we were going to Denver the next day where I would receive my present. She would not tell me what it was, only that I should not eat a greasy breakfast. From this hint, I knew my present was flight related. My first thought was she had bought me a flight lesson. Would it be in a fixed wing or a helicopter? I hoped that it was a helicopter lesson as that is what I liked to fly the most in FS2004.
We had to leave our house by 06:00 for the three hour drive to Denver. During the entire trip, she would not tell me our destination. It was not until we arrived at Centennial Airport that I was sure I was going flying today. Jean found a parking space and I saw a sign on the building that said "Skyfighters Office". I knew immediately that today was going to be no ordinary lesson.
We went up stairs to the Skyfighters office where we were greeted by two men in nomex flight suits. Their call signs were "Cowboy" and "Ranger". Both pilots were retired from the USAF and commercial aviation. After signing the necessary waivers, I was fitted with a flight suit, gloves and a helmet for the flight. I met my opponent for the day, "Hawk". Unlike myself, who was not a licensed pilot, Hawk had a PPL and owned a Cessna 172. Like myself, his wife had purchased this adventure for his birthday also.
We were given a briefing on what maneuvers we would fly, safety procedures, and the weather. Admittedly, I was still in a little bit of shock and forgot most of the briefing. I selected my call sign from a wall full of patches for our flight suits. I chose "Cobra". After the briefing, we went down to the flight line and I got my first glimpse of "63", the Beech T-34 Mentor I would be flying.
I was teamed up with Cowboy and Hawk was teamed up with Ranger. After being fitted with a parachute and told how to bail out of the Mentor in an emergency, I felt safer knowing that Cowboy had logged over 25,000 hours in F-111's and as a pilot for Delta Airlines where he flew Boeing 767's. He was not going to let me screw up, but accidents do happen.
During the taxi to the threshold at runway 35R, Cowboy and I talked about my flight experience. I told him about MSFS (he had never heard of it) and how I occasionally flew with a friend. He explained that about 80% of Skyfighters customers were not licensed pilots. After clearance, we took off in formation with the other Mentor. Climbing out, we banked left toward the east. Clear of the Centennial airspace, Cowboy said those words I wanted to hear "The aircraft is yours." Smiling, I took control and flew in formation off Hawk's left wing. Cowboy constantly coached me on formation flying ("Never take your eyes off the other aircraft") as we headed to an area east of Denver where we could fly aerobatics. We would be flying between 8,000 and 10,000 feet during our dogfighting lessons today.
Arriving at the fighting area, we first practiced using Lag Pursuit and Lead Pursuit tactics to stay behind a target with me trying to stay on Hawk's tail. Once in firing position, there was a gun sound effect that played in our earphones, followed by smoke from Hawk's Mentor signifying a hit. We exchanged positions and now it time for Hawk to get me.
The next maneuver we learned was the High YoYo. This maneuver is used to slow closure on the target by pitching your nose up, then banking back quickly toward it from above. During the YoYo, I saw that my G-meter peaked at 3.5 G.s during a 90+ degree bank. Cowboy complemented me on my flying skills and called me a natural. I told it was due to too many hours in front of a computer! After my kill, we switched positions again so Hawk could get me.
We flew a total of six engagements against each other. Our lessons in Basic Combat Maneuvering over, we headed back to Centennial. On the way back, Cowboy asked if I wanted to try some victory rolls. With grim determination on my face (and glad I had not had that greasy breakfast), I did one to the left and one to the right.
The flight back was bittersweet knowing that one of the best experiences of my life was about to end. Cowboy had been a great instructor. For an all too short time, I had flown like a fighter pilot, chasing another aircraft through the skies, as my uncle had in World War II. Even though I was over the gentle prairies of eastern Colorado in a little T-34, I could imagine what is was like for him over Italy in his mighty P-47D.
Back at the airport, we had a post-flight briefing, took a few group pictures and said our goodbyes. Hawk and I were presented with a DVD of the onboard cameras as a memento. Sadly, Skyfighters is no longer in business in Colorado. I thank my wife for giving me the chance to live out a dream.
William Dyer (vert002)