SAN DIEGO – Let’s make one thing clear: I did not vomit.
That’s important to clarify when the faint of heart is thrust aboard the world’s most advanced aerobatic stunt plane, the Extra 330, one of the planes Tom Cruise used to train actors for the rigors of shooting jet action in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
As my pride flew out the cockpit, I never took my eyes off the two vomit bags near me, or stopped repeating my mantra: Don’t puke. Don’t puke. For God’s sake, don’t puke.
Confession: I can fly commercial like a pro, but avoid any roller coaster requiring a shoulder harness. Yet I volunteered, even semi-pleaded for this adventure, being offered in conjunction with Tuesday’s “Top Gun: Maverick” digital release.
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The phrase “once in a lifetime” opportunity was all the catnip this sucker needed. I brought my own denial to prevent freaking out weeks in advance.
It didn’t help my ever-looming dread to meet a guy who gleefully swiped through pictures of his recent stunt plane-vomit disaster. The spew was everywhere. The windows, seats, on his lovely, forgiving girlfriend of him. He warned me: Locate the vomit bags before takeoff and don’t drink tequila the night before. Donate.
I learned a few hours before that I would actually take the controls of the Extra 330 during the flight. But it was all under the guidance of a trained pilot who obviously handled most of the flying. I made sincere eye contact with a pre-flight message to the man holding the keys to my fate: Slow your roll, cowboy, or it’s gonna get ugly fast.
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I took off like a champ, with moments of pure glee in ever-expanding blue skies. Did I dream that I belted out “Danger Zone” with my pilot? (He, too, only knew five words.) But that happened. Had I suddenly turned into an adrenalin junkie? No, it passed.
We definitely twisted in the air, gracefully upside down. There was that bizarre reality of looking up at the ground flying past, before slamming my eyes shut and waiting for that to just be over. God meant for the ground to be in the opposite direction. Makes me queasy thinking about it.
The dogfight did me in. Flying right at an opposing plane with me holding the stick. I have no business driving this flying apparatus, especially knowing an arm spasm would turn this jolly jaunt into tragedy. Was there even an arm spasm backup plan?
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I was absolutely fine with losing the best-of-three air battles. Winning one was clearly an act of luck or pity. Evading the opposing pilot – a glamorous, beaming British journalist – meant taking maneuvers I’d never, ever willingly do. I flat-out refused one sky-braking move my pilot urged me to take. He overrode me and pulled back the stick. That move alone will take up a few therapy sessions.
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Taking Gs from the steep turns was where the battle to stop stomach-fluid ejection reached a new level of urgency. I focused on holding the rising vomit storm, but could not stop the rioting sweat glands that ran amuck. There was even kneecap perspiration and my barber will surely fire me over the debacle of my sweaty hair.
They say the flight was 20 minutes. It felt like an hour. If I was giddy at takeoff, I was exultant upon landing.
“Maverick” director Joseph Kosinski reminded me in my flight debriefing that film stud Glen Powell often tossed his cookies in flights. “He wore it with pride, he was not embarrassed,” Kosinski said.
Glen Powell was also flying bigger jets, is a movie star and takes his shirt off in public. Whereas I can merely clutch one victorious thought.
I did not vomit.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism