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Reporter’s Notebook: Soaring over O.C. with an aerobatic pilot from the Huntington Beach air show

I flew into a lush cerulean sky above the steel-blue ocean on a T-33 jet Wednesday.

The adrenaline was infectious and the views above coastal Orange County were breathtaking. I can see why aerobatic pilots get hooked on zipping and zooming across the sky. The views alone are worth it.

As the Huntington Beach reporter for the Daily Pilot, I was invited to ride on a jet and write a first-person story of my experience ahead of the Great Pacific Airshow scheduled for this weekend in Surf City.

The show is expected to draw 2 million visitors to watch the Air Force Thunderbirds, Jeff Boerboon’s Yak 110, a KC 135 Stratotanker and a C-17 Globemaster, among others, along with aerobatic pilots such as Matt Chapman, Sammy Mason and Bill Stein.


My pilot was Greg “Wired” Colyer, who also will perform in the show.

When I arrived at the Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport, I expected to watch a safety video before my flight, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Colyer gave me a brief rundown of all the buttons and controllers in the jet.

I like to think of myself as an adventurous risk-taker, but my nervousness was through the roof. Riding on an aerobatic jet had never crossed my mind.

The T-33 Shooting Star is a jet trainer that was produced by Lockheed from 1948 to 1959. The last active model was retired last year by the Bolivian air force.


As Colyer strapped me into his jet and helped me with my helmet, he showed me what switch to pull in case I needed to get out in a hurry. That only increased my anxiety.

Colyer said we’d be able to communicate with each other through microphones embedded in our helmets. If I wasn’t feeling well, I should let him know, Colyer told me.

“Do you get sick easily?” he asked.

“No, but I’m just really nervous,” I said.

“Good. So am I,” he said.

Once we got the green light from air traffic control, we sped down the runway and into the sky. It wasn’t turbulent or as physically intense as I imagined. It was like sitting in the window seat on a regular plane, except with a better view.

The ride was short and sweet. We were in the sky for 15 to 20 minutes and flew over Irvine, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and somewhere inland.

We did two flips over the ocean. It was similar to going through a loop on a roller coaster. I couldn’t help but laugh from the feeling.


Colyer flew in from San Francisco on Wednesday for the air show. He is scheduled for two more shows after Huntington’s. During the offseason, he’s a pilot teacher.

Colyer ditched his job as an air traffic controller and bought his first jet 10 years ago to fly and do stunts.

“The adrenaline rush is addicting,” he said as we flew above Laguna Beach. “It’s good to live with a little fear in life.”

I agreed, telling him that was what encouraged me to agree to the ride-along.

Once we landed, I thanked him for the once-in-a-lifetime experience and wished him good luck this weekend.

He smiled and gave me the shaka, or “hang loose,” sign.


What: Great Pacific Airshow

When: 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday


Where: Area of the Waterfront Beach Resort, 21100 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach

Cost: Free, though tickets are available for upgraded viewing.


Twitter: @vegapriscella