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Upside down in the air

Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt flies

Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt flies inverted over Long Island's South Shore as he prepares to participate in the 2010 Memorial Day weekend air show at Jones Beach. (May 25, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

I understand this blog is about life on Long Island, but let me tell you about my day above Long Island.

That's right. Above Long Island.

With the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show approaching this Memorial Day weekend, I took to the skies with Air National Guard Lt. Col. John Klatt in one of his stunt planes. This weekend he'll be stuntin' in a Staudacher S-300D, but we flew in a Extra-300L, which is much like his S-300D, but has an extra seat (and a bag just in case my stomach couldn't handle it).

Simply stated: It was an incredible experience.

After being briefed on how to "handle" an emergency water landing, how to inflate my life vest and how to operate my parachute, we were ready to go. Well, they told me I was ready to go. I was suddenly not excited about this water landing stuff. (But, hey, things can go wrong. Right, Sully?)

Within minutes we were strapped in and cleared for takeoff. We flew due south from Republic Airport in Farmingdale and made a turn, heading west toward Manhattan. Flying no more than 1,000 feet from the ground, I had an amazing view of the Robert Moses Causeway and the expansive southern shoreline.

Klatt gave me a rather unique view of Long Beach ... when he turned me upside down and held it for roughly three hours. OK, more like 10 to 15 seconds.

We continued along the coast, flew over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, then did a few amazing loops around the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan.

Next up: the Hudson River, with a stunning view of Central Park and Yankee Stadium.

A few miles after the George Washington Bridge (which was packed with inbound traffic), we banked east and headed back along the Gold Coast. It's as impressive up there as it is down here.

It was a smooth ride until we reached the smokestacks in Northport. With our flight plan just about done, Klatt told me it was aerobatics time, and before I knew it we had launched into a series of barrel rolls, stalls, dives and other gut-wrenching maneuvers. It was the most intense experience I've ever had. We were diving straight for the big, blue watery road known as the Long Island Sound, which was an eerie feeling. I can't imagine what he'll be pulling off when he's flying solo this weekend.

After flipping through the sky for a few minutes, it was time to head back to the center of the Island. The stunts were over. I survived.

Flying south, we flew over 25A, 25, the LIE, over the Walt Whitman mall, the Newsday building, St. Anthony's High School and many other Long Island landmarks.

Klatt was obviously a professional and put together an experience I'll never forget.

But he did ruin any future landings at MacArthur or JFK. Seeing the shore beaches upside down is really the only way to do it.