Soaring with an ‘Angel’

Donning a blue and yellow flight suit, Bridget Fox fastened on her helmet, strapped herself tight inside the F/A-18 Hornet's dome-windowed cockpit and prepared herself for the flight of her life. When the Grand Haven Township woman gave the thumbs up, the jets on the U.S. Navy Blue Angels' blue and gold Hornet rumbled and the plane briefly hovered over the runway before it vertically shot up in the sky.
Kyle Moroney
Aug 27, 2011

 

“It was the coolest feeling,” Fox said. “It was just awesome. I felt like I was surrounded by the Earth and the sky. I swear I saw the curvature of the Earth, but I don’t know if that’s true.”

Fox, a Muskegon High School counselor, said a Navy recruiter stepped in her office last September and asked her if she liked to fly.

“I love to fly,” Fox recalled saying to him.

After a brief conversation, the recruiter said he wanted to nominate Fox to fly with the Blue Angels.

Fox filled out the necessary application and resume paperwork, had a physical and visited with her doctor to make sure her health was in good condition for that type of air travel.

“I don’t know why they chose me,” she said.

After months of waiting, everything was set for Fox to fly with the Blue Angels in the Muskegon Air Show. Then the Air Show was canceled, and the 57-year-old woman thought her opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime flight was gone.

Fox then received a call from a Navy serviceman, telling her she would be the primary rider with the Blue Angels a couple of days before their stunt demonstration in a Battle Creek air show in early July.

“I was so excited. I jumped up and down and screamed,” Fox said of her reaction to being chosen to fly with the Blue Angels. “Not everyone gets to do this. I thought, ‘This is going to be fun and I am going to have a really fun time doing this.’”

On June 28, Fox drove to Battle Creek with her husband, Dale Fox; two adult children, Brittany and Elizabeth Fox; and her mother, Joan Crane. They were met by the Blue Angels at Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation campus at W.K. Kellogg Airport.

Fox felt a little anxious when Blue Angels pilot Lt. David Tickle told her and two other riders during the briefing that they could be accelerating to where passengers are likely to pass out, she said.

“It caused you to pause and think,” Fox said. “But I was never to the point where I didn’t want to go.”

Once strapped inside the Hornet and ready to soar above the clouds, Tickle told Fox he wanted to show her the full capacity of the plane, but also told her he wouldn’t do any stunts that would make her feel uncomfortable.

“This is your 200 gallons of gas — so use it however you wish,” Fox recalled Tickle telling her. “I immediately felt comfortable. Any anxiety that I had went out the window.”

After takeoff, and Fox and Tickle were upward of 10,000 feet in the sky, the Navy pilot directed the plane in a myriad of maneuvers — such as barrel rolls, loop-to-loop, anti-gravity and four-point stunts that were a bit jerky, Fox said.

“We did it all,” she said. “We went from pretty slow — about 110 knots — to almost the speed of sound at 560 mph. ... I think we used all 200 gallons of gas. I loved flying upside down.”

The speed of sound is around 760 mph. The F/A-18 Hornet is capable of speeds to Mach 1.7, which is about 1,000 mph.

A majority of Fox’s 45-minute ride was smooth — not at all like a rollercoaster ride — with a panoramic view of the sun-filled sky. A camera inside the window-covered cockpit captured Fox’s flight above and below the white, billowy clouds with her Blue Angels pilot.

“This is just a wonderful experience,” an airborne Fox said on the recorded DVD.

It all came to an end as the Hornet swooped down for its landing at the W.K. Kellogg Airport, where Fox’s family members greeted her with hugs.

“To be able to experience this and see how well-trained they are, you really have respect for their training and the love of country that these people have,” Fox said. “I was very honored and humbled to be selected.”

Online:
Blue Angels: www.blueangels.navy.mil/

 

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