“I have the aircraft” is a phrase I never thought I’d say, but last week I sat in the front of an Extra 330LC aircraft thousands of feet above the desert brush just south of Henderson Executive Airport and said those words.
Next to me was Kevin “Magic” Menard, a 41-year-old fighter pilot, who has been in the Air Force since 1993 and saw combat in Iraq, Rwanda and Bosnia. Now, he’s a pilot for Air Combat Ace, a new company in Henderson that lets customers live out their Top Gun fantasies high above the Valley.
For $500 you and an ACA pilot go up in the air together and essentially go nuts. You’re taught how to pilot the aircraft—which, surprisingly, takes about five minutes—but even if you don’t grasp the simple instructions, the pilot can take command of the plane whenever. Groups can try aerial dogfighting using laser sights equipped on the planes. Think of it as laser tag with airplanes.
Back in the cockpit, the sun was shining as I told Magic, “I have the aircraft.” My cheeks blew back and I steered the plane into an easy loop. For a second I felt helpless, then the ground popped up from the top of my view and, for a split second, the sky and the ground switched places. Suddenly, I was a kid again, 5 or 6, on a rollercoaster in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I looked down and thought about all the things that could go wrong, and after that one unhappy ride, I never rode another roller coaster again.
Yet here I was, careening through the air playing pilot. “You have the aircraft,” Magic said as we headed back towards the airport. I’d like to think that, years from now, I’ll still have it.