I like the thrill of roller coasters and ziplining through tree tops in Hawaii and Alaska. Standing high in the Rockies on skis is exhilarating, but the line is drawn at skydiving or any activity where the possibilities are higher for things to go wrong. We all have our limits.
So when recently offered an opportunity to ride with Lt. Col. John Klatt (ret.) in an Extra 300L aircraft built for Aerobatics, I could not turn it down although it most certainly was beyond my ‘imagined’ threshold.
Lt. Col. Klatt and his crew were at MacDill AFB attending the recent AirFest held May 12 and 13. This plane is used during practice runs prior to the event.
Admittedly, I did have trepidations. Not with the actual aerobatics; but as a natural worrier, my fear focused more on the ‘what can go wrong’ aspect.
The bright red two-seat plane had ‘Feed Your Wild Side’ emblazoned on its wing. I had to climb onto that wing to get into the front seat. The already snug fit was made tighter by a parachute (just in case) and a harness to strap me in. It was time to put on a brave face even though I was feeling quite the opposite.
Once boarded though, I began to feel more at ease thanks to Lt. Col. Klatt’s crew, team manager, Tim Jarvis, crew chief Dell Coller and multimedia manager, Adam Glowaski. Their professional and calm demeanor helped settle my nerves (just a little).
Flying since the age of 17, Pilot Lt. Col. Klatt graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1989 with a degree in Communications. He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Minnesota Air National Guard, during which he completed three combat tours logging more than 2,000 hours at the controls of the F-16.
So I was in good hands. He has been doing these breath-taking aerobatics at air shows around the world since 1999. “It’s been a wild ride ever since,” Klatt said. He is no stranger to the upside down world he inhabits frequently.
Now I was ready to join him on one of his wild adventures. It was a beautiful day with small cumulus clouds dotting the sky. The half-hour trip took us out of MacDill’s air space over the bay toward Apollo Beach and Riverview.
We flew about 10 minutes before Lt. Col. Klatt asked if I was ready for some rolls. “Hang on,” he said. In the next instant my whole world turned upside down. Facing down at the world thousands of feet below was certainly a strange sensation.
Lt. Col. Klatt continued through his different practice maneuvers which included turning the plane up so that we were facing skyward on our backs and then in the other direction so that we were dangling – hanging upside down for about five or ten seconds. Interestingly, I did not have a sensation of falling; I guess it was not my main focus as I stared down at the incredible view below. Gravity pulling my harness straps and cords down and out of position was the main indication that we were not upright.
He did some quick barrel rolls where we were just spinning round and round in mid-air. The last maneuver was the torque roll (flying straight up and then backwards). This was the most intense (6 g’s) and the only move where my head and stomach felt queasy.
John Klatt Airshows partners with Jack Links Beef Jerky. Both are based out of Minnesota. It is a relationship of mutual admiration. “We sure like being partners with Jack Links and getting out and taking folks out for a fun aerobatics ride,” Lt. Col. Klatt noted while he had the controls.
During the Airfest, Lt Col. Klatt flew the Screamin’ Sasquatch. John Klatt Airshows and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky teamed up to create this one-of-a-kind plane, which is powered by two different engines. The plane style, a Jet Waco, was first introduced by Jimmy Franklin in 1999.
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Lt. Col. Klatt and his team. They run a smooth operation, and get to have a lot of fun while entertaining crowds at air shows.