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In a word, aerobatic plane ride simply ‘awesome'By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

March 11, 2001

NAVAL AIR FACILITY EL CENTRO — As I was driving to the Navy base west of El Centro on Friday, I was excited about what I was about to undergo.

I was going to take a ride on an aerobatic airplane — which one, I had no idea.

I had traveled in a commercial airliner and on a Cessna, so I was looking forward to this ride.

It was media flight day, on which different media personnel were invited to take a ride in the non-military aerobatic planes that performed Saturday during the Blue Angels Air Show.

As I saw the different aircraft I started jumping up and down wanting to ride in each one, even though I knew my stomach was not going to allow that.

The plane I was assigned to was a North American AT-6/SNJ Texan, an airplane used to train World War II pilots.

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At first I was excited about the plane, but after I asked the pilot, John Collver of Lomita, "How old is the plane?" and he answered, "I'll just tell you this: It was rebuilt and has been maintained," it made me think twice about setting foot inside the airplane.

I swallowed my stomach and got in.

As he started the engine I heard a lot of pops and crackles and thought, "Oh my God, the engine is going to explode."

Collver reassured me that's the way it's supposed to sound.

Finally we were set to take off, and what a way to take off.

Collver did what they call a maximum take-off. The take-off exerted about two and a half G's, or weight of my own body, on me. In other words, I had two and half times my own weight pulling down on me.

It was awesome.

Collver was a cool pilot and a cool person. He talked me through every step of the flight. Collver has been flying for 16 years, which helped settle my nerves.

He did two 360-degree turns, one to the right and one to the left. That was a three G's maneuver.

Then came a big over and bank on the outside. I didn't understand it, either, but that's what Collver said. That one, about two G's, left my stomach rolling a thousand times a minute. Fortunately, I had a light breakfast.

Then Collver did a 360-degree barrel roll that left me looking at the ground as I was looking up. This one was my favorite.

The flight lasted 15 to 20 minutes but it felt like hours. I wanted more, but I didn't want to leave Collver with a cleanup job after the ride.

Before the flights one of the pilots jokingly told the media people, "Whatever you take up with you, you bring down with you."

As we were preparing to land I started thinking about all the pilots this plane must have trained.

I thought, "I sure am lucky. How many people can say they rode in a plane that trained World War II pilots?"

While I would serve my country if called, I wouldn't do so in a plane. I don't think my stomach is that patriotic.

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 370-8549.

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