The Patriot Ledger June 14, 2009 by Josh Callum
Posted Jun 12, 2009 @ 06:24 AM
Last update Jun 12, 2009 @ 06:50 AM
PHOTO: Air Combat USA photo
Air Combat USA offers armchair fighter pilots a chance to experience the real thing for $1,395. The show is coming to Marshfield Airport June 13-15 and Sept. 26-28.
Air Combat USA is coming to Marshfield Municipal Airport this weekend, offering armchair pilots a dogfighting experience in which everything but the bullets is real.
The cost is steep – $1,395 for a three-hour program consisting of a briefing, a run-through, and a mission of six engagements against another thrillseeker – but this weekend's schedule is booked. About 45 people have signed up.
There's still time to register for flights in September.
Since 1988, Air Combat USA has enabled 38,000 guest pilots to experience air battles similar to ones that took place in World War II.
"Once you do this, you will have no fear of anything," Tina Volden of Lakeland, Fla., said. Together with her husband, Gerald, she has gone up with Air Combat about 180 times in the last five years – a total of nearly 1,100 air engagements.
"It may seem dangerous and crazy, but in reality it's the safest thing I've ever done," said George Smith of Shrewsbury, who over the past seven years has flown a more modest 25 times. "They give you a briefing, take you through air combat maneuvers … and all the while that you're flying the aircraft, there's an instructor sitting in the copilot seat."
To fly in Air Combat, you don't need experience or a pilot's license. Simply sign up on Air Combat's Web site and show up on the scheduled day.
"You're pulling up to six G's (six times the force of gravity) in those turns," Smith said. "You fly at each other (from several miles apart), and when you meet the aircraft, break off, and that's when the combat begins."
Volden said, "Every time, it's unique, you know – nothing's planned – and you never know what your opponent will do until he does it. Then you have to figure out how to be better, or you're done."
The planes have sensors that detect when the other pilot has achieved a "hit." Instead of going down in flames from a stream of bullets, the plane spews smoke, signifying a win for the other pilot.
In the 21 years that Air Combat has been operating, there has only been one incident in which an early landing had to be made. Both pilots walked away unhurt.
"I'm a grandmother, and my friends like to play golf, like to play tennis," Volden said. "For me, it's dogfighting. I love it."
Air Combat will be back in Marshfield Sept. 26, 27 and 28. Spots on that weekend's schedule are still available.
And it will be back again next June for anyone who wants to try their luck in the cockpit.
READ ABOUT Air Combat USA in Forbes magazine.