“Do you need another barf bag?” Whip, my co-pilot, asked me as we came out of another maneuver and after I had filled up one already. That’s right, my co-pilot, Whip. And for the intents and purposes of this blog post, you can call me, “Stormy.” Stormy being the pilot name I was given before being handed the controls of an aerobatic plane to fly ove Las Vegas and the Nevada desert. “Sure, just to be on the safe side,” I (Stormy) replied to Whip, though knowing that it would be mere minutes, if not seconds, before I’d need it. Something told me that this wasn’t exactly the normal conversation that pilots named “Stormy” and “Whip” should be having mid-air. But then again, this wasn’t a normal trip to Vegas. Because how many people wake up in Vegas one morning and decide to go fly a plane when they’ve never done so before?

When I was putting together my 30 at 30 list, I began by thinking about what childhood dreams I had always wanted to do, but had never done. But I didn’t want to just stop there, but rather do something that pushed myself to the limits. I knew that if I started at the top and did something that really stretched me, then I could do just about anything. And so there I was, at Henderson Executive Airport, being tossed a flight suit and being told to suit up before jumping into the cockpit of a two-seater aerobatic plane with Sky Combat Ace.

Sky Combat Ace Top Gun ExperienceBefore I jump into the flight itself, let’s go ahead and jump to some of the questions that you may be thinking. Spencer, is the Top Gun Experience worth the $599 price tag? And would you do it again even if you lost your breakfast once twice three times? For the first question, I’m going to be a bit coy, especially being that I was hosted by Sky Combat Ace with Expedia. This is a rare experience that you can’t just do anywhere, and can’t do anywhere else in Las Vegas. I hold firm to a mantra of investing in experiences, rather than things. This is an investment in such experiences. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. Now would I do it again? Absolutely! I’d throw up all over again if it meant being the one behind the controls performing loops, barrel rolls, tailslides, and hammerheads through the sky. It’s one of the most unique, adrenaline-pumping experiences I’ve ever done.

You’ll need to allot a few hours for the Top Gun Experience, beginning from the time you’re picked up at your Las Vegas hotel until you’re dropped off. After arriving to Henderson Executive Airport, you sign your life away, put on a flight suit, and undergo a safety demonstration that goes through everything from how to sit, to how to operate an emergency parachute, to how to perform each maneuver. It is a lot of information packed into a short amount of time, because let’s be honest, you’re not there for classes, but rather to fly a damn airplane. However, don’t worry about taking notes or even remembering everything, especially when it comes to the maneuvers, since your pilots will be up in the air with you walking you through every part of each maneuver. Wait, what? You thought I took off, landed, and did aerobatic tricks up in the air all by myself? Silly kids.

After the safety demonstration, you’ll head out to the plane to get strapped in, test your headset, and have a few photos taken of you. Relax, smile, say “cheese”, and don’t look as nervous as you feel. After your flight you’ll get both photos from before your flight and video of your flight, as there are several video cameras on the outside and inside of the plane. It’s mere moments after the glass cover is latched down that you’re up in the air, flying high above the Nevada desert. Whip was nice enough to take a few photos, mid-air (And mid-loop) with his iPhone, so it wasn’t necessary to take a camera. That and they recommend leaving loose items like a camera behind lest they get tossed around and become a distraction to you or the pilot.

If you’ve ever take an adventure sport lesson, such as surfing, then I think you’ll find some similarities between that and the instruction you receive from Sky Combat Ace. With a trained pilot sitting right behind you, there’s nothing you’ll do that they can’t quickly correct. Once at a safe elevation, the pilot will do several maneuvers to make sure you’re comfortable and not getting sick. Then they’ll hand the controls over to you, letting you first test with turning the stick left and right, before pulling up and pushing down to get a feel of resistance. After that, it’s time for the maneuvers, starting with the simplest maneuvers first, such as loops and barrel rolls, before working up toward the more advanced maneuvers, such as a hammerhead and tailslide. Instead of hearing the words “Paddle, paddle, paddle,” you’ll hear phrases like “Keep pulling back.” As you complete each maneuver and start feeling more comfortable, your pilot will advance you to the next maneuver.

I’m 100% in the moment during most experiences in life. They are those experiences that are commonplace, like taking the bus, writing emails, working out, and so on. But then there are some moments, which I feel somewhat removed, as if I’m a spectator watching earnestly as life goes by in slow motion. This was one of those moments. Even now, weeks after I completed the Top Gun Flight experience, it all feels so surreal. While I’m over 1/3 through the 30 at 30 list, flying an aerobatic plane still sits atop as the most exhilarating experience I’ve done, and not one that’ll easily be trumped. For that, and many other reasons, I’d do a loop, barrel role, tailspin, and hammerhead all over again, even if it meant losing my breakfast.

Additional Reading

Sky Combat Ace is the Best Thing I’ve Ever Done by @leeabbamonte

Adventure Girl’s retiring: after a fighter jet ride finale by @abbytegnelia

My post on Expedia.com with more practicalities.

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done or want to do?