YPSILANTI – Flying hundreds of miles an hour while doing barrel rolls and banks in a formation of seven fighter jets separated by as little as six feet sounds physically and mentally taxing.
It was, at times, for Detroit Red Wings Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin. But they also described their ride along experience Thursday with the Breitling Jet Team as quite a rush.
“Flying in formation was amazing,” Abdelkader said. “I was fortunate to be in the lead jet, so I could look over the wings and see the rest of the team on the sides. Really unique, really great. We flew about 10,000 feet. Just doing the barrel rolls and looking over and seeing planes 10 feet from each other was pretty cool.”
The pair experienced typical maneuvers that the Breitling Jet Team will perform Saturday and Sunday during the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show at Willow Run Airport.
“These guys did fantastic,” Kevin Walsh, event director for Thunder over Michigan, said. “Someone said, ‘They’re hockey players, they should be able to handle this stuff.’ This is such a different experience than you’ve ever experienced playing hockey. They came back, had good color, a little sweaty, but that’s the way you should be after doing some aerobatics in a Czechoslovakian fighter jet.”
Abdelkader flew with the Blue Angels five years ago, so he knew a little of what to expect.
“Knowing how to breathe on the plane kind of helps, squeezing the legs, trying to keep the blood in your head, because if you don’t … I’d be curious to hear if anyone passed out,” Abdelkader said.
“We did a couple of barrel rolls, we flipped upside down and did a left turn.”
Said Larkin: “I actually got to do a barrel roll myself, take over control. I was just focused on looking down and not looking up in the air. What those guys do is pretty incredible.
“When you bank to the left or to the right you pick up some serious speed. When we were coming over to the airport to land, that was pretty fast, you could definitely feel it in your stomach and your chest.”
Larkin called being so close to other jets “the craziest part.”
“When you slow down to get into formation you come in tight really quick,” he said. “It’s pretty intense.”
Walsh said the pinpoint precision demonstrates the skill-set of the pilots.
“I’ve done formation work before and it’s absolutely amazing to watch how close they get,” Walsh said. “These guys have been flying all their lives. It is something that is a lot more exhilarating when you’re doing a loop and you have a jet on either side of you and one above you.
“When you see them this weekend at the air show you’d be amazed at how close they fly. You could see that when they took off, they started to form up right away. They’re within six feet of the other jet. You’re (flying) hundreds of miles an hour, six feet apart and you’re dealing with bumpy air and changing texture. These guys are such pros, they just hold that line and fly in formation, watching each other’s jet carefully. It’s a skill-set that very few people can master.”
The Breitling Jet Team is the world’s largest civilian aerobatic display team, comprised of seven L-39C Albatros, Czech-made twin-seat aircrafts based out of Dijon, France. The jets can reach speeds of 750 kilometers per hour during level flight and 910 kilometers per hour during dives.