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Flying upside-down in a Bethpage Air Show stunt plane
With a parachute on my back and my seat belt pulled as tightly as possible, I stared out the window of Lt. Col. John Klatt’s Air National Guard MXS stunt plane Wednesday morning, not knowing what to expect.
Klatt, a 24-year member of the Air National Guard and aerobatic pilot, was giving me a front-row seat to some of the stunts he’ll be performing in this weekend’s Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park.
Before we took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, I was told there was an “air sick bag” on my left, and should things go terribly wrong, I’d need to unhook my seat belt and pull the parachute cord near my left shoulder. (To be safe, I had limited my breakfast that morning to only a handful of peanut butter-filled pretzels and a shot of espresso.)
But the nerves and the nausea never set in, and our ride was a smooth one.
“It was a good day for flying,” said Klatt, 47, of Lakeville, Minnesota.
We flew south toward the site of this weekend’s air show and once we reached the ocean, the flight went from scenic to spectacular.
Going 225 knots, or about 260 miles per hour, Klatt executed loops, wing overs and barrel rolls at altitudes as high as 3,500 feet. When it's time to really get fancy a “Half Cuban” (a loop and a roll to create half of a figure eight formation) and a “Hammerhead” (two planes flying straight up and then nosediving down together) are in order.
I relished every moment that I was airborne, even upside-down, staring down at the ocean beneath me. Hanging there, I released my hands from the rails in the cockpit and felt as free as a bird.
“You got the chance to feel what minus 1 G feels like,” Klatt said, referring to the G-force I experienced while inverted in the air.
Through the intercom system in the plane, I told him, “I can see why you love this.”
This Saturday and Sunday, Klatt will be flying with the Air National Guard and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky teams. Jack Link’s new plane, the Screamin’ Sasquatch, will have its Bethpage Air Show debut. Pilot Jeff Boerboon said the “beefed up” 1929 Waco jet has a CJ610 motor that gives it a total of 4,500 pounds of thrust.
Klatt said attending air shows like this one as a child inspired him to become a pilot. With the Air National Guard, he’s flown the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" and the C-130 "Hercules" for combat, air support and humanitarian missions throughout the world.
“This weekend is all about reflecting on those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and those who continue to serve, so we can enjoy a day at the beach.”