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Flying high with aerobatics team, and living to tell about it

There is a certain tingling feeling that occurs in the stomach and brain when your fighter jet hits 4 g’s while flying upside down in a loop at 400 mph only a few feet from seven other aircraft.

It’s thrilling, spectacular, beautiful and, for several members of the media flying with the Breitling Jet Team on Friday, nauseating.

The world’s largest high-performance civilian aerobatics team is performing along with the Blue Angels during Fleet Week, the four-day extravaganza of military pomp and showmanship. I was one of several members of the media who were invited to fly with Breitling team during a training run Friday, one per plane.

“The purpose of the flight is to share with you our passion, not to take you to your limit,” team leader Jacques Bothelin said before the flight. “Our business, our job, is entertainment. We must capture attention and keep it, like a musician.”

It was a comforting thought until Bothelin described the loops and barrel rolls we would be doing, urging us to clench our abdomen muscles to prevent sickness, or worse. It wasn’t any comfort knowing that all wretched indignities in the cockpit would be caught on a mounted GoPro camera for my schadenfreudian colleagues to see.

Bothelin also suggested we not touch the red ejection seat levers between our legs unless the pilot specifically ordered us to eject. He said with a chuckle that seemed to me a bit too relaxed that such a thing happened once five years ago when the pilot and passenger had to bail out of a jet with engine trouble over the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. My only goal as I was strapped into the back seat of the sleek L-39C Albatros jet was to not barf or pass out.

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The seven Albatros aircraft jets on the team — an eighth was added Friday for the media — are Czech-made, twin-seat military training jets built in the early 1990s for former Soviet bloc countries. Bothelin said they are not as high tech as the Blue Angels’ planes, but they are fast, maneuverable and reliable.

The team is made up of former French Air Force pilots. My pilot, Christophe Deketelaere, known as “Douky,” likes to sing while he flies.

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