NAS JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Here’s the thing: for a very long time, I didn’t think I was that girl. No, I was the girl who was scared of roller coasters, haunted houses, and the voice at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
According to my parents and older siblings, I was a scared, shy, quiet girl who didn’t want any trouble.
After what I did a week ago today, my sister Tiffany said it best: “Who are you and what have you done with my little sister?”
Let’s turn this thing upside down months ago when I found out I would be a substitute to fly with the Blue Angles. I had heard of the Blue Angels before but never really seen what they did or knew what they were doing.
I told my parents about the opportunity, and my dad said, “No, you’re not going to (fly with them),” jokingly, of course. Mom, on the other hand, was serious when she said, “Don’t tell me when you do it, call me right after.”
At the time, all the Blue Angels staff needed from me was a physical exam. It was months in advance and I quickly forgot about the flight.
Then I received a call saying that I was no longer the reserve, but the first runner. It still didn’t feel real – but more like that thing I would do and pray live to say.
It only started sinking the week before.
The once distant thoughts of flight began to come closer.
Wednesday October 19th I arrived here and was on my way to Naval Air Station Jacksonville with my photojournalist Ciara Earrey and my close friend/mentor/sister/colleague Jenese Harris (gang).
We met this dope educator from Duval County, Mr. Simmons, who was flying before me. He had his whole team with him: wife, cute child, sisters, cousins, colleagues.
We drove to this hangar, and it was my first time on a military base, which I learned felt like its own little town. But this little town is famous for the Blue Angels. You can see these really cool model airplanes parked on the grass along the street – pretty cool stuff.
So we bonded with this guy Dale, who I’m sure has a much bigger title, but I can’t think of that right now. He was our instructor. We sat down, learned about the plane, did breathing exercises and practiced what to do in an emergency. We laughed at everything – until that last part.
Then it was time to put on our flight suits. Mine matched my Marina Blue Air Jordan Ones great. (I’ve always been the girl who keeps a pair of Js).
After a few quick photos, we went to see Blue Angel No. 7. I couldn’t help but notice how the plane was painted in the colors of my Alma Mater (North Carolina A&TSU). It was a cute peg for this story – but it was getting real.
Mr. Simmons was loaded, strapped and headed for the flight of his life. During this time I used the bathroom like four times at my wit’s end. But I thought, “If he can do it, so can I.”
Its flight took off into the big blue sky and we followed for as long as our eyes would allow. Forty minutes passed, and he was back down, and you could see that huge smile on his face.
He said, “You’re going to love this!”
Then it was my turn. Not everyone stayed, which was good because soon it would be just me, my pilot, and that mighty plane.
I kept saying to myself, “Pretend you’re flying in a private jet, just a little higher and no champagne on board.
Once strapped in, my pilot – “Seven” – reminded me that this was my flight and he would do what I was comfortable with. He jumped up, closed the canopy above us, and I smiled at the camera.
About 5 minutes passed and we were still on the ground. Then a voice came through my headphones, “Marilyn, I have bad news.” What a relief it was to hear that and still be on the ground.
My flight had to be rescheduled due to technical issues.
At that point, I thought everyone thought I had probably chickened out. I was told to come back on Friday to try again.
I couldn’t sleep because of the excitement I had replaced with a bit of disappointment. On Friday I was back on the jet after practicing my breathing a few more times.
This time the plane was moving. Taxiing before takeoff was like normal flight, but on a smaller scale.
The moment we took off, I knew there was nothing small about it.
The view, the view, the view. I’ve seen all of Jacksonville.
I remember seeing my reflection in the glass at one point and the sun was shining even brighter on the jet. “Seven” took us above the water, and I saw the long shoreline and thought, “Okay, this is going to get smaller.”
Things started to get bluer. The higher we climbed, the more I felt it in my body. It wasn’t a bad feeling. I was just beginning to feel weightless in this little box.
We took it one G at a time.
“Ready to test this thing? Seven asked. I said, “Sure, what is it. We are here now.
It started slow, then picked up speed as we flew sideways. He turned us to the right, then to the left. We did a slow roll, then a fast one. That’s when I had to take a break.
Then Seven took us to 0G. I let go of my arms and we floated in our seats. It was awesome!
Then it was time for another ride, but this one was my last straw. The pilot tipped us backwards, and I don’t even remember what happened after that. What I remember is once we leveled up again, the #1 vomit bag was deployed.
“I feel uncomfortable” is what I said to Seven.
He calmed down with me after that. The corners of my eyes were getting darker and darker as we sat on 5Gs, I think 17,000 feet in the air.
It’s crazy to think back to the view I had. I just remember a lot of blue. But to be honest – yes the view was amazing – but the feeling, aside from the sickness, was even better. I felt free and super safe.
Seven took very good care of me. Initially, I was worried about being so high up, but then I had to remember who my pilot was. Seven is the man. He is not new in this field. And the jet was packing a major power. I felt comfortable and was given the space to marvel at the view and try something new. I was relaxed to the point where I didn’t want to come down.
Speaking of going down, that’s when vomit bag #2 came out. My body was not okay with where it had just been.
I took my time getting out of the jet. The nausea came immediately. I couldn’t walk back to the shed, so we took a golf cart. I desperately wanted to lie down. Once we got to the hangar, let’s just say anything had to happen.
Despite how bad I felt after the theft, it was what everyone said: the theft of a life and something I will never forget.
Would I do it again? Selfishly, I would say yes – to try to hit 7G, but I wouldn’t want to take someone else’s opportunity.
Now I can say that I did. Flying with the Blue Angels made me realize that the shy young girl that I was was now fearless, daring and willing to take on any challenge, one G at a time.
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