My brother posted a link on Facebook today that led to a raw video shot by someone riding back-seat with the Navy’s Blue Angels. It’s nearly 10 minutes long, and I watched the whole thing. It took me back to my Best Day in the Navy. My best day in the Navy was the day I got to ride back-seat in a jet (with a regular pilot, not a Blue Angel). On April 13, 1990… a Friday the 13th, no less… I got to go for a 2-1/2 hour ride with LT Dan “Dangerous” Rose from the VS-37 “Sawbucks” squadron, in an S-3 Viking jet. Navy pilots are amazingly trained and talented, and this Blue Angels video shows it.
Here’s that video. It’s really amazing to see how close they fly in formation:
Here’s how my Best Day in the Navy came to be.
It’s all who you know!
Before I started my tour on the USS Independence, a friend of mine “hooked me up” with the Aviation Physiology Department at Naval Air Station Miramar (where Top Gun was located). I wanted to get “back seat qualified,” which meant I MIGHT be able to ride in the back seat of a Navy jet one day. Without this “Back Seat Qual” credential, I simply was not qualified regardless of opportunity. I had to take two days of “leave” (aka vacation time) to take this Aviation Physiology course, since it was not related to my work as a Navy dentist. And, of course, it was no guarantee I would ever get a ride. I would simply be QUALIFIED to ride back-seat… IF I passed the “quals.”
An Officer and a Dental-man (playing pilot)
This two-day course is the same one Navy pilots go through. Some of it was featured in the movie, “Officer and a Gentleman.” You may recall Richard Gere and his buddies getting dunked upside down in a simulated cockpit in a big pool. His friend nearly drowns in the movie. Here’s what I did:
Here’s what it looks like from the inside:
They were also put in an altitude chamber (hyPObaric) simulating an altitude of 25,000 feet and then tasked with various exercises to demonstrate the effects of hypoxia. In that movie scene (Officer and a Gentleman) another guy loses it.
I did all that. We went through ejection seat simulations.
I went to 25,000 feet in the hypobaric chamber and tried to perform manual and mental dexterity exercises. Bailing out over water, including treading water in full flight gear for 15 minutes (NOT EASY). We also simulated a helicopter rescue being winched out of the water by cable. My scuba diving experience made me very comfortable in and under water, which proved vital in my ability to pass these tests.
We also learned about how g-forces affect our ability to remain conscious. Heavy positive Gs cause the blood in your head to head south (towards your legs). And, that makes you black out. It’s called “G-LOC,” or Gravity-induced Loss Of Consciousness. To combat that effect, we learned how to do the “HICK” maneuver.
Here’s a short video of a guy riding back-seat who experiences G-LOC:
Here’s a short video of a back-seater using the HICK maneuver to stay conscious in a high-g turn. It is PHYSICAL! And if he didn’t do that, he would have QUICKLY blacked-out.
Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones.
I was the only non-pilot in the Aviation Physiology course. Many of the pilots asked me why I was there. When I explained I was a dentist who just wanted the opportunity to fly back-seat one day, they nodded with approval. They seemed to respect that someone who didn’t HAVE to go through this rather grueling experience would do it voluntarily. Nevertheless, I became the “demonstration model” for each exercise. Being hung up in front of the class in a parachute harness digging into my “man parts,” dangling there for what seemed a LONG time was an “honor” of sorts. It was actually fun. I thought (in a really high-pitched voice), “How many guys get this opportunity?”
Mind you, many of my friends thought I was crazy and explained they’d NEVER “go up in one of those things.” I replied, “How could you NOT, if given the opportunity?” However, it bears mentioning that Naval Aviation is serious and dangerous business. Very dangerous. We (USS Independence) lost an A-6 Intruder crew at sea in peace-time flight operations. Every time aircraft are launched, lives are on the line. And, I did acknowledge that I was taking a significant risk. But, I simply HAD to do it. I knew I’d regret not doing it.
“Ya gotta take care of your hook-ups.”
On a ship that is another way of saying “one hand washes the other.” One day I helped a pilot with a dental problem after hours on the ship. He thanked me and said, “If I can do anything for you, let me know.” I didn’t hesitate and replied, “I’d LOVE to go for a back-seat ride.” He asked if I had my Back Seat Quals. I smiled and said, “I’ve got the paper in my file.” He then told me he’d contact me when a ride opportunity came up.
Then I got the call.
A few days later, the pilot called the dental clinic. There was a back seat available that afternoon at 2:00 PM. I told my department head (Senior Dental Officer), and without hesitation, he said, “We’ll take care of your patients. Go! This is what it’s all about!”
OOF! Holy crap, that’s crazy fast!
We catapulted off the flight deck of my ship, the USS Independence – 0 to 150 mph in less than 2 seconds. I felt my whole body compress under the crazy acceleration. It makes even the most extreme roller coaster look like a kiddie-ride.
Here’s a short video of an S-3 Viking carrier catapult launch (aka “cat shot”):
Here’s the same thing viewed from the cockpit. Listen to them grunt when the catapult goes.
The coolest thing I’ll ever do in my life.
LT Dan “Dangerous” Rose spent 2-1/2 hours showing me that the S-3 is FULLY aerobatic. We did the same maneuvers (aka “Air Combat Maneuvers” or ACM) you see in the Blue Angels video and then a bunch more. We performed: Loops. Split-S. Immelman. Barrel rolls. Aileron rolls. High-g turns. And, some other crazy maneuvers I can’t name nor describe. At one point, the pilot asked me, “How are you doing, Doc?” I was so disoriented, I replied, “I’m fine, but where are we?” He explained we were inverted and in a 30-degree dive. I couldn’t even tell I was upside down!
Gravity isn’t just a theory.
I learned first-hand about g-forces and the effects on your body. I nearly blacked out on some maneuvers, but I had been prepared on how to prevent it with the “HICK” maneuver I learned in Aviation Physiology. I was just RIDING in the back seat and it was BRUTAL. You can see it in the face of the guy in the 3rd video (performing the HICK) in this blog post. I’m tellin’ ya… it’s BRUTALLY physical. And, these guys are doing this… and flying the jet… and in combat, fighting the enemy. Very physical and mental. I did well just to stay conscious riding in the back.
Finally, my body and stomach said “no more,” and LT “Dangerous” Dan backed off. Plus it was time to return to the carrier. The experience of the arrested landing (catching the cable on the flight deck) was akin to being a crash-test dummy. We went from 120 mph down to a dead stop in about 2 seconds. It really is a “controlled crash.”
Here’s a short video of an S-3 landing on the carrier. A “tail hook” catches an arresting wire.
It took my body 3 days to recover and feel back to normal. I didn’t get sick, but I got very close! I’m not prone to motion sickness, but the forces on my body were extreme and for a period over two hours.
I’ll never forget that day or the details (and it was 22 years ago)! The Blue Angels video posted on Facebook by my brother reminded me of that incredible experience. I’d pay BIG money to have that experience again. And, that one day was worth my entire three years in the Navy. I served on the USS Independence 1989 – 1991. We were the first response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The moral of this story: Take advantage (of opportunities). Take charge (of your life). Take chances (calculated). Say “YES!” Remember the good stuff.