G-Whiz

  By Dorothy Edwards / The Virginian-Pilot

By Dorothy Edwards / The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va.

As Lt. Col. John Klatt spins vertically above the Chesapeake Bay on a clear Thursday morning, with a plume of smoke trailing his plane, he doesn't flinch.

For Klatt - leader of the Air National Guard Aerobatic Team - this is nothing special. On a scale of 1 to 10, the flight hardly registers.

"We're at about a 4," he said.

Then he made a quick turn, diving straight toward the water and the shadow of his looping smoke trail, pausing a moment before straightening out and flipping over, so another plane could snap photos a few feet below.

It capped a 20-minute flight of barrel rolls, torque rolls and loops over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and Fisherman Island, reaching 6 G's in maneuvers that dwarfed white caps and passing container ships as the plane jumped between 1,500 and 3,500 feet. His other flights often reach 10 G's, Klatt said.

It was, Klatt said, just a day "in my office space" - an Extra 300L aerobatic plane.

That's because Klatt and his Owatonna, Minn.-based crew are equal parts pilot, recruiter and spokesman for the Air National Guard - publicity-stunt pilots, perhaps.

"We take it for granted too many times that this is just what we get to do all the time," said Jeff Boerboon, who flew alongside Klatt in a single-seater plane. "For somebody who's new to it, it's unlike anything they probably could've imagined."

This weekend, the team will be one of about 10 groups flying in daily air shows above Virginia Beach at the annual Patriotic Festival. The event draws about 50,000 people, said Misty Edmonds, a spokeswoman for Whisper Concerts, the festival's host. The shows run from noon to 3 p.m. today through Sunday.

This weekend, Klatt said he planned to step it up a notch from the basic maneuvers he performed Thursday. He's planning on "10 minutes of hard-core flying" Sunday, including a three-way spin and a tumble maneuver in which "the airplane actually goes completely out of control."

Klatt said the most intense memories he has from 23 years in the Air National Guard are from his three tours of duty in Iraq with the 148th Fighter Wing in Minnesota.

"Being a part of that family is pretty special," he said.

The aerobatic team's goal, he said, is to spread their enthusiasm for flying to others.

"After we fly, we'll go down to the beach, and we'll look at the kids - the young kids - and it's just amazing," Boerboon said. "You see the light go on in somebody new, and you go, 'Ya know, that was me. That was me a long time ago.' "

Klatt and Boerboon's high-flying high jinks provide vistas of beaches, skylines and countryside, all depending on where their national circuit lands them any given day.

"It's a fabulous job," Boerboon said. "And this is the best office in the world."

Originally published in The Virginian-Pilot, May 30, 2013. Brian Clark contributed.