It was hard to know what was louder: the booming roar of the jets flying overhead or the excited chorus of “whoooooahs” coming from the classes of children watching below.
“We would like to congratulate you on becoming naval aviators for the day,” said Lt. Kristen Erpenbach as she welcomed students to the base’s CNATTU theatre. There, the students would get to see of jets in flight, with the footage taken directly from the cockpit of the plane. Students oohed and ahhed as the jet took off from an aircraft carrier, flew over oceans, and zoomed across around mountains.
Students then got to hear from pilot-in-training First Lt. Jason Ashley. Ashley told the students his desire to be a pilot grew from his childhood obsession with the movie “Top Gun.” He watched it so much, “my mom probably hated it.”
He then dressed out in a pilot’s jumpsuit, and highlighted the various equipment built in – including the vest that becomes a flotation device if he is ever in water.
Ashley is a student like they are, he pointed out. He has a lot of reading and math work to do and has to report to Erpenbach, his “teacher.” In fact, the two worked with Andrew Stark, a third-grade teacher at Seatack, to work through a couple of math problems for the students. The questions included asking students to estimate the amount of fuel a jet needs as well as how an F/A-18 can go.
For the record, it takes a F/A-18 just .7 of a second to go 60 miles per hour.
It was the kind of speed that two Virginia Beach teachers got to experience firsthand earlier in the week.
“I’m an English teacher, but I have no words right now,” said Princess Anne High School teacher Carrie Gantt as she stepped out of a F/A-18 Hornet Tuesday afternoon. “I told Jeff that when I’m 99 years old I’ll remember this.
Jeff is Cpt. Jeff Kuss, pilot of U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet No. 7., who took Gantt and Sanae Kenner, Japanese teacher at Salem Middle School, on 45-minute guest flights neither will forget.
“We flew inverted over the Atlantic ocean for 45 seconds,” exclaimed Gantt while demonstrating with her hands. “How many people can say they’ve done that?”
They had to get airborne first, and Gantt’s takeoff from NAS Oceana runway No. 5 began with a 17,000-foot vertical high performance climb that guests, including Gantt’s husband and mother, watched from the ground.
“They probably haven’t taken off the ‘fasten your seat belt’ sign yet,” remarked one viewer.
Waiting for Gantt’s return to solid ground, Kenner said she was “excited and ready” for her turn. “Eli’s briefing really helped us know what to expect,” she said.
Blue Angels jet No. 7 crew chief Eli Lang was praised by both teachers for his preflight briefing to explain positive and negative g-force, and more importantly, how to brace for the maneuvers and cope with any physical effects they may experience in flight.
Kenner, a pilot herself, has been flying single-engine planes since 2008, amassing enough hours to be a commercial pilot if she wanted. Seeing the skies from the seat of an F/A-18 Hornet, however, would be a first.
Both Kenner and Gantt are excited to share their experiences with their students. A camera inside the plane captured their in-flight reactions to each twist and turn.
“I will show them the video, but not the part of me screaming my head off,” laughed Gantt. She hopes that hearing about her flight might inspire her students to consider the military or aviation as a career.
“I am filled with awe not just at the breathtaking beauty of water and sky but at the top-notch skill and professionalism of the Blue Angels and the sailors and Marines who work with them,” said Gantt. “I was so very grateful for the opportunity to fly with them and catch a glimpse of what these men and women do every single day to keep our nation safe. We are in excellent hands, for sure.”
Talking to the students Friday morning, the pilots themselves reminded students that the path to the skies is filled with teamwork, responsibility and discipline.”
“We, as naval aviators, need to work hard and work together to get the mission done,” Erpenbach said.