Pilot Lite

Los Angeles International Airport

I’ve always thought that the hour-long flight from LAX to McCarran could be improved. Specifically, I think it would be more exciting if there was someone trying to shoot you down the whole time. 

Think about how great it would be: Your sturdy little 727 climbs into a sweeping barrel roll – engines straining – in an attempt to shake off the enemy’s missile lock. The drink cart smashes into the ceiling, showering passengers with hot coffee and tiny bottles of Jack Daniel’s. The pilot jukes left, sending you hurtling into a vomiting stranger across the aisle. Then he jukes right, launching you (and the stranger’s vomit) back to starboard. 

Awesome? Indeed. But I’ve found something even awesomer. It’s called Sky Combat Ace, and it is amazing.  

Located on an airstrip in Henderson, SCA is a genuine “Top Gun” experience (minus the shirtless beach volleyball). The company offers packages ranging in price from $400 to a couple thousand bucks. Our favorite is called the Adrenaline Rush ($1,799) — a breathtaking experience that you will one day tell your grandchildren about. (Incidentally, your grandchildren will one day tell their grandchildren about it, too, but it won’t be a big deal because everybody will have their own spaceship by then).

You start off with a preflight briefing, where you learn about things like safety (boooo!) and how to eject (yay!). After that, it’s off to the airplanes, where you’re paired up with an SCA pilot with an awesome nickname, like Tex or Flash. The pilot will sit behind you in the cockpit of the propeller-driven Extra 330LC and take care of the boring stuff, like taking off, landing and not crashing into things.

Once airborne, you’re pitted against another plane (piloted by either another novice or one of the SCA jocks) for three rounds of aerial dogfighting. You’re allowed complete control of “the stick” as you struggle to maneuver your aircraft behind the enemy and into gun range (SCA uses a sophisticated optical targeting system instead of actual guns – probably for insurance reasons). With your face unappealingly contorted by the forces of gravity – and with a little luck – you’ll spot the enemy, squeeze the trigger and laugh maniacally as smoke (yes, actual smoke) pours forth from his fuselage (an indication that you’ve scored a kill).

After that, it’s time for a bit of aerial acrobatics, during which you get to (literally) take the aircraft out for a spin. Under the tutelage of your pilot, you’ll learn to do barrel rolls, loops and something called a tail slide, which involves flying both straight up and straight down within the space of a few seconds. If your stomach will allow it, your pilot might finish up with a “tumble,” which feels kind of like falling down the stairs in an airplane.

The whole thing wraps up with a low-level flight over the Mojave Desert. For such a barren, inhospitable place, it sure does look beautiful. But, then, everything looks more beautiful when you’re not being shot at. 

  —Josh Jenisch

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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