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Flying with an Angel

Matt Woolbright, a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, is briefed by Blue Angels pilot Lt. Brandon Hempler (left) before his Blue Angels flight on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The Blue Angels will be performing this weekend at Wings Over South Texas at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.(Photo: Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times)


The F/A 18 Hornet screams down the runway just 50 feet off the ground, and then, in a matter of seconds, the earth is some 7,000 feet below.

Caller-Times reporter Matt Woolbright took a ride this week in one of the Navy’s Blue Angels — a combat jet reconfigured to preform in air shows around the country demonstrating the Navy’s skills and commitment to excellence while also seeking to inspire the next generation of military pilots.

Crowds are amazed as the planes slice through the sky in formations where just 18 inches separate each aircraft, but there is even a greater appreciation that comes after experiencing the gravitational forces the pilots endure as they turn, climb, dive and roll.

Lt. Brandon Hempler, pilot of the Blue Angels’ No. 7 jet, is the team’s designated narrator during air shows, and he’s also the flier tasked with giving the public a taste of flying in a fighter jet.

“I love this job,” he told the Caller-Times while several thousand feet above the Gulf of Mexico. “I constantly get to make people’s dreams of flying in a fighter jet come true.”

The flights are tailored to each riders requests, but Hempler doesn’t take it easy on riders who ask for the full experience. As the planes maneuver, particularly during turns and climbs, pressure mounts on the aircraft and occupants. That pressure is measured in gravitational forces, or “Gs”.

During the Caller-Times flight, Hempler guided the plane through patterns that resulted in 6.5 and 7.4 Gs, which means both riders felt as if they weighed — during each maneuver — 6.5 and 7.4 times their body weights.

The pilots are trained to handle that sort of pressure while simultaneously locating enemy targets and deploying the jets’ weapons as needed. Guest riders are not.

This  Caller-Times flight included inverted flying, a full loop, high- and low-speed patterns, vertical climbs and dizzying aileron rolls.

The Blue Angels will be preforming at the Wings Over South Texas airshow at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi this weekend. The show is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and the Blue Angels are scheduled to preform at 3 p.m. both days. The team is also expected to meet with the public Friday night at Veterans Memorial High School for a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m.

For a chance to see what that looks like from the cockpit, and how Woolbright fared, check out the video on Caller.com.

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