Flying High in Las Vegas Off the Strip
Flying High in Las Vegas Off the Strip
We recently asked our Facebook fans to choose what activity travel blogger Spencer Spellman should do in Las Vegas. There was no arguing, our Facebook friends wanted to see Spencer behind the controls of an aerobatic airplane. Read Spencer's full report below:
"It'll be an adrenaline-pumping adventure of a lifetime," said the driver to me as we pulled into the airport parking lot. The two tourists sitting behind me weren't convinced, unaware that I was in for a little something different than the Hoover Dam tour that they were doing. While Sky Combat Ace does a variety of unique tours, including bi-plane tours of Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, they specialize in extreme air adventures. Think Evil Knievel meets Blue Angels. Except one thing, you're not a spectator, but rather a participant. That's right, you're in the cockpit. However, not just in the cockpit for a joy ride, but in the cockpit behind the controls. You actually get to fly the plane. And when I mean fly the plane, I mean you get to somersault, loop, tailslide, and barrel roll through the sky.
There are a couple extreme experiences offered by Sky Combat Ace, including the Afterburner, which is something of an introduction to aerobatic flying, as you take the passenger seat as your pilot hurls the plane above the Nevada desert, doing maneuvers that include loops, rolls, Cuban 8's, hammerheads, and tumbles. The closest you've likely experienced aerobatic flying is from the ground or maybe a rooftop while watching an air show, but the Afterburner experience shows you what being a air show pilot is like first-hand, giving you the best seat in the house, from the cockpit.
However, not one to skimp on adventure, I knew it was the Top Gun flight experience that I wanted to do. Twice as long as the Afterburner, the Top Gun experience does you one better, giving you the controls of the plane. Did it matter that the closest I had come to flying a plane was playing flight simulator games on the computer as a kid or paragliding just a few weeks prior? Not at all. Upon arriving, I was greeted with a flight suit and an aerobatic and safety briefing by one of the pilots, which covered the flight from beginning to end, including how to get in the plane, what items you can take up with you (Leave your phone behind. You won't need to make any calls while flying a plane), what to do in case you get sick, and how to go into maneuvers once the pilot has given you controls. While you're briefed on each maneuver, you're not expected to memorize them, as your pilot walks you through each step of the maneuver once up in the air.
After posing for a few photos and getting strapped in, it was just moments later that I, given the name of "Stormy", and my co-pilot, Whip, sat at the end of the runway, waiting for the green light for takeoff. We chatted about our favorite movies that have been filmed in Seattle and I asked him if he had done this before (He had). It was just minutes later that we were flying high above the desert and jagged mountain peaks just outside of Las Vegas. Once we had reached a safe altitude, Whip gave me the controls for the first time, telling me to start getting a feel for it by first moving left and then right, followed by pulling back and then pushing the tail down. Reluctant at first, it wasn't long before I was making sharp turns and saying aloud, "Did I do that?" Whip answered with, "You just wait."
A few minutes later, as we were taking a break after several maneuvers, another aerobatic plane in the distance was ripping through the sky, doing one aerial move after another, ending with a maneuver that involved a roll and a tailslide . My stomach churned and I took a big gulp, wondering if that's what we would soon be doing. But Whip knew what I was thinking. "Oh that, that's a torque roll with a tailslide. That's what we just did." The torque roll with a tailslide being the last of several maneuvers we had just completed, including a barrel roll, aeliron roll, and hammerhead. Of all the situations that I imagined saying, "It's like riding a bike," this hadn't been one of them. However, I couldn't find any other words to describe the effortlessness that I had felt while looping and rolling through the sky.
Do you need prior flying experience in order to do this activity? Not at all. I came in with no experience in a cockpit, yet with the help of Whip's direction, completed each maneuver successfully. Before each maneuver, Whip would first do the maneuver and tell me exactly what we were doing, how to hold the controls, and what to use as my point of reference. It was then my turn. If I wasn't pulling back far enough, he would tell me, and if there was anything that he needed to correct, then he would. Whip was like my driver's ed teacher, having his hand on the controls when and if I needed them, yet fully empowering me.
Know Before You Go
- Take it easy on the Las Vegas strip the night before your flight. In fact, I don't recommend drinking the night before. Your stomach will thank you afterward.
- Wear athletic clothes. Shorts, tennis shoes, and a t-shirt is fine, as you'll have a flight suit over your clothes.
- Eat something light before your flight. You don't want to show up for your flight immediately following a buffet breakfast, but you don't want to show up on an empty stomach either. Will you get airsick? You won't know until you get up there. The guy in the other plane did more advanced maneuvers than I did, and he was fine. However, I got motion sickness after doing several of the maneuvers. Would I do it again, knowing that I could get airsick? Absolutely. In fact, after doing my business in a bag they provide, I told Whip to turn around and go back for more aerobatics after we had started back to the airport. If you've gotten motion sickness before, then take a motion sickness tablet an hour or two before the flight or pick up one in the gift shop when you arrive.
- Bring a small camera. While you can take photos before and after your flight with the pilots and airplane, it's recommended to leave items like cameras and phones behind so that they don't distract you or the pilot while in the air. There are numerous cameras on the plane, as well as a photographer who will take some photos while you're boarding and getting strapped in for your flight.
Every year millions of people take to airfields and parks to be dazzled by the spectacle of aerobatic pilots participating as the main attraction of air shows. Crowds gather, oohing and ahhing as airplanes roll, loop, and spin through the sky. You get to be that spectacle in Las Vegas, taking the controls of an aerobatic plane and doing the very things you've oohed and ahhed at while watching an air show. While many may train their entire lives to do such stunts, for a couple hours of your time, you can be an extreme pilot yourself, tearing through the skies above Nevada. Now if that's not a travel memory to take home with you, then I don't know what is.
Find out more and check price and availability of Sky Combat Ace Afterburner and Top Gun experiences.