Marine Corps staff sergeant Deo Harrypersaud, left, and pilot Lt. Frank Weisser, right, spend 35 weeks each year at air shows. Each week, three individuals like professor Ed Bond, center, are invited to fly with the Blue Angels.
Dr. Ed Bond’s sense of wonder was like that of a child on Christmas morning. Decked out in a blue flight suit, he was wide-eyed as he approached one of the Blue Angel’s Boeing F/A-18 Hornets with a giant grin on his face and a camera in hand.
As his wife Linda and two children followed — all with cameras to document the day — Bond reached out to put his hand on the 47,000-pound aircraft. He slowly inspected the smallest details of the jet, taking picture after picture, standing nose-to-nose with the plane, and crawling under it for a unique angle with a camera.
Then it was show time.
The 6-foot-4 associate professor of marketing was selected by the Navy to take a 40-minute flight in April in one of its famous Blue Angel jets at the Prairie Air Show in Peoria. As he strapped into Lt. Frank Weisser’s RIO seat — the backseat — Marine Corps staff sergeant Deo Harrypersaud gave Bond final instructions. “I was impressed by the friendliness, professionalism, and humility of both the pilot and chief of maintenance,” Bond said. “They were very responsive and ready to explain anything.”
What followed was better than any roller coaster imaginable. Moments after the jet taxied away, a blue blur flew about 15 feet over a runway at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport before making a vertical climb of 50,000 feet per minute. Then they headed for open air space south of Peoria. “As we were flying, he asked me what I wanted to do,” said Bond. “He said some people like the aerobatics; some people like low and fast. I said, ‘I like all the above.’ ”
Weisser complied. They did a loop and a split-S, a maneuver that involves a half roll and half loop to turn around quickly. They reached speeds of almost 800 mph, or 98 to 99 percent supersonic, and flew just 100 feet above the Illinois River. Later, Weisser slowed the aircraft to less than landing speed with the jet at a 45-degree angle. “You could see vapors coming off the wings; there was so much turbulence there,” Bond said.
Each maneuver was designed to acclimate Bond to the G-forces exerted on the body during flight. Bond had learned the anti-G maneuver, or HICK maneuver, a straining technique that forces blood to the head to prevent losing consciousness, in the pre-flight meeting with the other two flight guests, Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens and a television reporter. Bond never passed out or became ill while enduring 6.8 Gs.
“Over the river,” Bond said, “Lt. Weisser told me, ‘All the other maneuvers we’ve done so far, I can do things that make them more comfortable for me because I know how to do the anti-G maneuver. But this next thing is going to be uncomfortable for both of us. There’s nothing you can do about it.’ And he turned the plane upside down. It was cool and interesting, but I wouldn’t call it fun. You’re just hanging in this harness upside down.”
DRU BLANC, MBA ’08 registered Bond for the flight. During a class break last fall, Bond’s screensaver flashed a picture of his son and father-in-law with a Christen Eagle II stunt plane on the screen at the front of the class. Blanc, a Navy pilot and recruiter, remembered Bond’s love for aviation and submitted his former teacher’s name in January for a Blue Angels flight. Blanc said Bond’s chances to fly were slim, and, in fact, Bond received an e-mail from the Navy rescinding an offer to fly. He later received an e-mail and an in-person invitation to fly with the Blue Angels from Steven Cincotta, the commanding officer of the St. Louis district of Navy recruiting. The Blue Angels flights are a public relations vehicle for the Navy, which is interested in individuals who will promote their story and/or impact recruiting.
Bond was especially excited about the chance because of his experience in stunt planes. “I have a lot of friends who are current or former military pilots, and I’ve flown a little with an instructor pilot in a stunt plane,” he said before the flight. “I’m jazzed. I’ve done a split-S in a plane with a 22-foot wingspan, and it’s a biplane going 100 knots. Now, I get to do it in this jet.”
As Bond climbed from the F/A-18, it was like Christmas Day again. “This is amazing!” He shook hands with his hosts again before inspecting the jet one more time and posing for pictures. “It was the ride of a lifetime. Forty minutes in an F/A-18 doing basically anything I wanted to do. And I never blacked out.”