The whir of the propeller, the cold flash of air from the vents and a strapped-on parachute amounted to a day I’d never forget.
That’s not how it all started.
As an intern in my senior year of college at the Beacon, I went expecting nothing more than an interview with the pilots of John Klatt Air Shows, to see what the Quonset Air Show had in store this year, and I was offered the unique opportunity to view Quonset Point from the cockpit of an upside down Jack Link’s stunt plane.
Driving up to the RI National Guard base in Quonset last Wednesday was intimidating to say the least. Men twice my size in uniform stared at and inspected my car with stern faces and tight lips. After successfully passing the security check, I drove to the back of the base to find what seemed like endless runways. Planes roared above, looping in and out of the few clouds out that day.
Military uniforms and pilot gear surrounded me. I was a little out of place in my blazer and flats. Jeff Boerboon, a Klatt Air Shows pilot, came running up with a smile asking, “Are you ready to fly Kelcy? Do you want to feed your wild side?”
I said yes before I even asked what was going on. Maybe not the smartest move, but I was captivated with the circus I saw above me. I wouldn’t say I am a daredevil, but I rarely say no to any new opportunities.
Confused, I stated I was there for an interview. I was assured there would still be one, but they were going to take me up in a Jack Link’s Extra 300 L first.
After paperwork that I barely read from excitement, I was outfitted with a parachute. I was promised I wouldn’t need it. The heavy blue sack was strapped tight across my chest and around each of my legs. Despite the weight I still felt elated. I was going to fly!
We had a brief discussion before about Jack Link’s Beef Jerky Company and the partnership with John Klatt Air Shows, one that was consumed in adrenaline. We watched John Klatt himself fly above us. The accuracy with which the plane was twirling, tumbling and flying through the sky only made me more thrilled for my ride; within minutes I would be doing the same.
“Let’s go feed your wild side,” Boerboon said, and I hopped into the black and red plane first, strapped in and put on my headset.
Before me were buttons galore and speedometers that didn’t even register until 80 miles per hour. The smile I had when I saw that almost broke my face in half. I couldn’t stop laughing to myself. My day had suddenly taken a drastic turn and then another when, in what seemed like five seconds, Boerboon took off and I saw nothing but the blissful blue sky I was then immersed in.
Looking out into the empty sky I was just starting to become peaceful when all of a sudden my hair was covering my face. When I pulled it aside I saw a view of Quonset I have never experienced before and doubt I’ll have too many similar experiences now. The straps kept me in my seat, but my hair was hanging upside down just touching the glass of the cockpit. The water was far below us, a never-ending sheet of dark blue. Buildings were nothing more than brown and black dots on the green landscape.
I heard Boerboon say over the headphones, “This is why I love flying. There is so much freedom in flying.”
Even for my short time in the plane I could understand; nothing existed down on Earth from so high up. There was only you, and for me of course the actual pilot, but it was easy to forget everything else other than what was right in front of you.
As we returned right side up Boerboon told me to take the stick. I did and followed his instructions to move left and right. He commented on my “natural talent” and I didn’t have the heart to tell him it came more from fear of breaking the plane somehow than any talent. I had barely moved the stick to either side hoping I wouldn’t move anything at all. The plane was so sensitive that those gingerly made motions had a lot more impact than I had thought they would. Without knowing it, I had just faked trepidation for ability. But Boerboon didn’t need to know that, so I just laughed and said thank you.
He said, “Now lift the nose a bit. You’re going to make this thing go upside down. Pull the stick all the way to the left.”
I saw two hands with thumbs up from my right peripheral. There was no pretending it wasn’t me driving anymore. So, I threw the stick all the way to left and, lo and behold, we were upside down again because of me. Who would’ve thought? And I thought the most I was going to do that day was take notes.
Boerboon took control of the Extra 300 L and I let out a sigh of relief. Phew, I didn’t crash or break anything.
We continued doing tricks: flying upside down, doing front and back flips, endless tumbles, vertical lifts, hovering on the nose and straight down nose-dives.
At one point he said we had even hit almost five g-forces, gravitational force, at 256 miles per hour. I could tell. My body was thrown against the seat stuck into itself and my face squashed inwards against my neck. I tried lifting my hand and it was thrust back into the seat. We would fly so quickly upside down my hair wouldn’t even move. Uncomfortable? Yes. Worth it? Of course.
Boerboon complimented me on my strong stomach, my “wild side.” Most people usually asked to stop early on, but I had lasted through most of his tricks. I didn’t want to disappoint him or give up my “wild side.” He didn’t need to know I couldn’t tell him where my stomach was anymore. The thrill, speed and exhilaration overshadowed the sick feeling in my stomach. The experience was well worth any amount of slight queasiness.
When we were about to land I kept waiting for the familiar jerkiness and bump of the landing, but Boerboon was so talented there was no distinction between whether there was air or asphalt under the plane.
Boerboon commented again about how I handled the ride and I joked, “What can I say? I have a wild side. I just took it that’s all I did.” He asked if I would take flight lessons I said, “Maybe, but I’ll probably stick to writing.”
Then came the hard part. Getting out of the plane. Boerboon helped me down and immediately offered me Jack Link’s beef jerky. I declined thinking it smart to not “feed my wild side” right away.
For the next half hour I spoke with Boerboon and other Jack Link’s /John Klatt Air Show employees about their performances for the coming weekend and their relationship with the infamous Jack Link’s Sasquatch, who apparently is the nicest guy. Creature? Unfortunately, I did not get to meet him.
I got up close to the Waco Jet and it was absolutely stunning with its brand new shiny gloss. Boerboon was excited to fly the new plane for the air show and premiere it for the air show world. Boerboon told me that the Waco was significantly more powerful than the plane we had flown minutes before. He truly wants to inspire kids with his airborne acrobatics to know anything is possible.
Never had I expected my interview to lead to such an opportunity. I left the RI National Guard with an unforgettable and surprising experience. My wild side was completely satisfied.