When my editor texted me in Israel about a ride with the Phillips 66 Aerostars on Thursday at SUN ‘n FUN, she didn’t ask if I wanted the ride, she asked if I’d be back in time for it. Even if being at the Media Center at 7:30 a.m. required mainlining caffeine, I was all in.
Photographer Matt Genuardi loaned his GoPro. So, jet-lag gave way to Extra 300L thrills.
Alicia Herron, who writes for the AOPA Air Safety Institute, and Josh Flowers, who runs YouTube Channel Aviation 101, were revved about flying with the Aerostars. Josh had a case full of cameras to document his ride. The fourth rider was Jamie Allison, Brand Director for Phillips 66 Lubricants.
Jamie was the only non-pilot in the mix. None of us flinched at signing the liability waiver. No one backed out after Pilot Jerry ‘Fossil’ Molidor’s safety briefing that included a warning about the red ejection levers on the $25,000 canopy. But there’s something about getting strapped into a parachute that solidifies the risks of high-speed formation flying.
Jamie followed Pilot Harvey ‘Boss’ Meek to the number 1 plane. Josh and Pilot Paul ‘Rocket’ Hornick headed to plane 2. Alicia climbed into plane number 3 with Pilot David ‘Cupid’ Monroe. Pilot Gerry ‘Fossil’ Molidor secured me into plane 4 tighter than Dolly Parton’s bra.
The pilots fired up their engines and I fired up the GoPro. We taxied from the NOAA hangar to runway 090 and rocketed off the runway in pairs, heading east and south before moving into a snug diamond formation. I wouldn’t taxi that close to another plane, but there we were diving, then pulling up into a loop close enough to three other aircraft to elicit prayer and gasps of awe. Was that three or four Gs in the loop? I looked to my right and saw Alicia in plane 3 smiling like a kid at Disney.
My grip on the GoPro turned my fingers white. It was the only thing in the plane not secured in a 7-point harness or bolted down. Once a passenger lost a cell phone in one of the Aerostar’s planes and the seat had to be removed.
We banked left and perhaps we did a barrel roll. I was watching the silly GoPro screen instead of looking through the canopy. Watching is not the same as experiencing. Returning attention to the experience, I felt more steep turns. Then plane 1 cut sharply left. The other planes snapped left, following one by one.
The aerial dance continued as the planes aligned at the same altitude as if posing for a photo. We then landed one by one, taxied to the NOAA building, and parked in number order.
I can’t wait to share the video with my husband, who envied me for getting to ride along. Of course, watching the ride is akin to seeing photos of the Grand Canyon. The images don’t really compare to the in-person experience. Thank you, Phillips 66 Aerostars!