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Playing Tom Cruise in Las Vegas with a man named Stroke: When Top Gun becomes all too real

Playing Tom Cruise in Las Vegas with a man named Stroke: When Top Gun becomes all too real

sky combat ace, Jayme, June 2012, airplane, flying
Maneuvers Courtesy of Sky Combat Ace
sky combat ace, Jayme, Top Gun
Top Gun! Photo by Rachel Mostofizadeh/Sky Combat Ace
Jayme, Sky Combat Ace, takeoff
Pre-takeoff Courtesy Photo
sky combat ace, Jayme, June 2012, airplane, flying
sky combat ace, Jayme, Top Gun
Jayme, Sky Combat Ace, takeoff

Vegas: Been there, done that.

But if you’re under the false pretense that the most extreme attraction in Las Vegas is the glittering strip or the barely-there-bikini pool parties, clearly you’ve yet to find your way to Sky Combat Ace (SCA), the ultimate adrenaline rush for anyone with a steel stomach.

Truth be told, I was never that kid who wondered what it would be like to be a fighter pilot like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I more so found myself enamored with the illusion of what it would be like to make out with him, but that was well before he got all cray cray and into Scientology (and before I realized how short he was). Last month a friend was raving about his experience at Sky Combat Ace. He claimed he’d never had such a high (which says a lot coming from him) and that it was an experience that made Vegas all the more memorable.

 I was paralyzed. Paralyzed with fear, paralyzed with nervous excitement, and paralyzed from those damn G-Forces. 

I figured if this dude could do it and carry on about his adventures, surely I could too, right? After all, I’m queen of crazy adventures and I never turn down the chance to experience something new and crazy.

It wasn’t until I was informed that I’d be flying the plane that my stomach got a bit queasy. Say what? I can barely drive my Tahoe through the Chick-fil-A drive thru without jumping a curb or scraping my mirror and you want me to fly a plane with a wingspan of 26-plus feet at excess speeds of 253 MPH?

Incubus DJ, Chris Kilmore said it best, “It’s like driving a Ferrari in the sky.”

The Trip

My pilot, “Stroke”, was awesome. He gave us a 30-minute briefing on the plane, the maneuvers we’d be doing (throwing out terms like After Burner, Barrel Rows, Cork Screws, Tail Slides, and the like), what not to do (i.e. don’t touch the pedals — luckily my short legs couldn’t even reach), and how to fight “seeing stars” or losing temporary vision midflight. Again, say what?

While we’re 3000 feet in the air (twice as much as required by the FAA) and I’m basically the one in charge of the plane, you’re telling me I could possibly lose my vision? Midair? And that’s safe?

 As Stroke told me, there are three people in the world you don’t want to piss off: Your surgeon, your hairdresser and your pilot. 

After the briefing and signing my life away on the dotted line, we were ready to roll. I strapped on my parachute (as if that alone isn’t nerve racking), put on my “hooker harness” (which is named after the manufacturer, not because it’s in Vegas) and was fastened and strapped into the front seat of a bright red aircraft with engines roaring.

As Stroke told me, there are three people in the world you don’t want to piss off: Your surgeon, your hairdresser and your pilot. So once we were airborne over the desert, I kept my mouth shut.

Time and time again he reminded me to use my headset to talk smack to my friend Rachel in the entirely too close blue plane, which was also midair. For probably only the second time in my life, I kept my mouth shut. For fear of pissing off my pilot, for fear of vomiting instead of speaking and, quite frankly, for my extreme inability to lift my head off the headrest because the G-Forces we learned about in our briefing were pushing me back into the seat.

I was paralyzed. Paralyzed with fear, paralyzed with nervous excitement, and paralyzed from those damn G-Forces.

Prior to my aerobatic Top Gun experience, I thought I was a certified badass. Afterwards I became a self-proclaimed pansy sweating from places I didn’t even know were possible to sweat from.

I didn’t want to do any of the twists or turns, especially not the Tail Slide, which is when the plane stops midair and slides back causing the plane to flop over. Yes, a plane doing somersaults. It basically feels and sounds like the engine cuts off inciting panic, but really, you just let off the gas to where the plane feels as if it’s falling to the ground.

The slightly less-docile moves consisted of a practice-bombing run where the pilot shows you how to “take out a target.” Hovering close to the ground, still at speeds of 200-plus MPH, Stroke pointed out a tiny bonsai-looking tree in the middle of the desert and aimed for it. Like a pro, because thankfully he is, he hit his target and we landed safely — and my "sea legs" were able to escape the plane.

While it’s easy and painful to drop a few hundred on a game of roulette and be done in the matter of seconds, the runs at SCA have an average flight time of 30 minutes to an hour with prices starting at $399. Each plane has four cameras on board to capture all your screaming, smiling, or crying, allowing you to relive your experience after you leave.

If you’ve done all that you thought Vegas had to offer, this is surely a next step.

Check out this sweat-infested video interview with Stroke immediately following our flight.

The SCA Hangar is located about 20 minutes off the Vegas strip at the Henderson Executive Airport. Complimentary shuttle transportation is provided.