In the cockpit with Lt. Col. John Klatt
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“If you hear ‘EJECT! EJECT!’ don’t bother turning around,” says Mike Ganor, one of the crewmembers with the Air National Guard aerobatics team, “John will already be out of the plane.”
Ben Glowaski, another crewmember, just finished looking over the plane and is helping the pilot into the cockpit. Another member, Adam Anderson, fires off a couple photos.
I look at him with a blank stare. He guides me onto the wing of the plane and instructs me how to get inside the front seat of this electric blue two-seater, single-prop airplane.
“First, you’ll pull these two clasps. That will undo this harness.” Ganor points to the five-point harness that is now holding me snug in the seat. “Then reach around and rip off your headset, pull your legs out, jump out and pull this across your chest. It’s never happened before, but we have to take precaution.”
I’m now realizing that not only have I never put on a parachute, but in the days leading up to this opportunity to fly with Lt. Col. John Klatt, 25-year veteran with the Air National Guard, I didn’t even consider the possibility that I might have to abandon this aircraft in the event of a mid-air issue. I signed the waiver beforehand, but, call it wreck-less lack of worry, I didn’t take into account what I was getting into.
Klatt greeted me as he approached the airplane wearing his blue flight suit – we shake hands and exchange introductions. He steps into the rear seat of the plane while I am still being instructed as to how pull a parachute ripcord. This is all in a days work for him.
Because he is taking me to perform some aerial stunts and maneuvers we head north from Smith Reynolds Airport toward Pilot Mountain. The sun is blasting at 8:30 a.m. on this particular morning, and there is a blanket of fog on the horizon where the flatland starts to spike upwards to the mountains.
“You picked a great day to go flying this morning,” Klatt says to me over the headset. I distinctly recall mentioning to him in our previous interview that I wanted to full experience; flips, spins, rolls, Gs, and just about anything that will make me vomit.
We talk over the radio between his conversations with the tower at Smith Reynolds. I hear it, but it’s all a mix of various “Kilo tango alphas” and more numbers.
I ask him if we can hit some Gs. “We can pull some Gs,” he says. I realize that my only knowledge of flight terminology is limited to Hot Shots! Part Deux and Airplane!.
He pulls the stick back and we shoot vertically toward the sky with only blue as far as I can see. This turns into a full-on backflip before Klatt sends us rolling over the right wing several times, stops for a moment, then rolls it back to the left until we are left upside flying.
“Beautiful fog over there,” he says.
This is nothing for Klatt. Since he graduated from the University of Minnesota he’s been involved with airplanes. He signed up for the Air National Guard in 1989, which he is still heavily involved with outside of the air show circuit, and hasn’t looked back. He’s flown C-130s on various relief missions, patrolled the skies in F-16s following the events that took place on September 11, 2001 in New York City, and he’s flown aerobatics with air shows for upwards of 10 years.
He takes pride in what he does with the Air National Guard, which is why he doesn’t hesitate in speaking about the experience it has provided him. One of the reasons he continues to enjoy it so much is that he gets to enthuse young men and women across the country with the same excitement for flying he had when he used to drive out to see the F-4 Phantoms taking off and landing during his high school and college years.
“The Air National Guard is a great organization with more than 100,000 men and women who make it up,” Klatt said. “There are a lot of opportunities for men and women to pursue. It’s easy for me to be out here flying airshows and being apart of something I am passionate about.”
Lt. Col. Klatt and the Air National Guard team flew at the Winston-Salem Air Show this past weekend. They will head to Memphis, Tennessee for another show before heading off to California. Between the months of April and November, the crew will hit nearly 26 air shows in all and then try to decompress in the winter months before starting the 2016 season. !