Blayne Barber soaring high
Blayne Barber had two goals.
He didn’t want to pass out. He didn’t want to have to dip into that canister of barf bags by his seat, either.
“The people that (do these) throw up pretty regularly,” Barber explains. “So they have everything situated right there for you.”
Turns out, he’s got a strong stomach. And Barber accomplished both goals that day in September when he went flying with the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s acrobatic flight demonstration team.
“It’s something I will never forget,” he says.
Barber has always been interested in flying. His grandfather, Joe Shearer, served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force and Naval Reserve, retiring in 1975 as an E9 Master Sergeant. He enjoyed building and flying remote control airplanes, and Barber learned to love it, too.
“I grew up being fascinated by airplanes and fighter planes,” he says. “I’ve seen the Thunderbirds (the Air Force’s demonstration squad) in person multiple times growing up and I think it’s just kind of something like, man that would be so cool to do.
“I don’t really know if I actually thought I would ever get the chance. So to do that was definitely a dream fulfilled.”
And as an added bonus, Shearer was on hand at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, to see his grandson take off.
“He never had the opportunity to fly in a fighter jet because he was more in civil engineering and kind of did stuff on the ground moreso,” Barber says. “so he was living vicariously through me a little bit.”
Barber found out he was going to be able to go up in a VIP flight about two weeks before it happened. He admits he was pretty stressed in the days leading up to the one-in-a-lifetime experience. He was anxious and didn’t sleep well.
“I knew it was going to be really intense but I didn’t know what to expect,” Barber says. “So I can definitely say I was nervous.”
The pre-flight briefing probably wasn’t all that reassuring, either. The F/A-18 Hornet that he would be flying in was, after all, an active military aircraft that was about to all but defy gravity with Barber strapped into the back seat.
“You go through what happens in the event the jet goes down and your ejection seat deploys and your parachute goes out,” Barber recalls. “And here are probably three or four different gauges that if you click them something bad’s going to happen — and they are right there around me in the back seat.”
Once he got up in the air, though, Barber was hooked. He didn’t flinch when the plane flew upside down. Ditto for when it pulled up and headed straight into the air. The full loops and barrel and aileron rolls were icing on the cake.
“It was just very physically intense.” Barber says. “… I never had too much motion sickness problems so I wasn’t super concerned about throwing up. But obviously, I’ve never been twirled around in the air at 10,000 feet. So, I didn’t know what to expect on that front.
“Just the G forces and the force that is exerts on your body is the most intense thing. When we got done, I just felt like I had worked out. It’s very taxing.”
The jet cruised at between 400-500 miles an hour. At one point, the plane even broke the sound barrier, which means it was flying in excess of 767 mph.
“That was pretty cool,” Barber says.
Throughout the flight, the pilot was in constant communication with Barber, making him feel comfortable about what was about to happen and explaining maneuver the plane was about to attempt. And let’s face it, Barber wouldn’t have been up there if he wasn’t keen on the experience.
“He was like, are you ready to do this and I’d say, yes,” Barber says.
“… He wasn’t going to go up there and just try to make me miserable which I appreciated.
“He was explaining avionics and different things that were probably above my head but it made me feel like I was understanding everything that was happening more. It was neat that he kept me engaged.”
Barber says he would go on another flight in a “heartbeat” although he’s not sure that fun is the right word to describe the experience. “If you’re OK with an adrenaline rush and some crazy movement, then, yes (it is),” Barber says.
The sheer power of the jet was almost overwhelming at times.
“When you’re flying on a commercial airline you can only move so fast because it’s so heavy and there are so many people,” Barber says. “So just to feel that much intensity and to be able to change direction or change speed so quickly was really cool.”
And what about the next time he steps into plane to head to a PGA TOUR stop? Will flying with the Blue Angels make the jaunt to places like San Diego or Phoenix or San Antonio seem like a breeze?
“It will probably just make it boring,” Barber says.