YPSILANTI, Mich. – One second, Luke Glendening was on the ground. Moments later, he was heading straight up – literally straight up – in the air.
Glendening, 26, left his skates at the rink and donned a blue flight suit Wednesday afternoon for a chance to fly with the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, who are in metro Detroit for an air show this weekend.
Glendening had been looking forward to the occasion all summer but almost had a family celebration stand in the way.
"My sister was getting married on Saturday so I was concerned I might have to miss it," Glendening said. "But it worked out perfectly and now I can head back to Grand Rapids and have this cool experience under my belt."
After Glendening got some pre-flight instruction, he and his pilot, Capt. Jeff Kuss, taxied away from Ypsilanti's Willow Run Airport in the F/A-18 Hornet.
After gaining speed, the plane took off and then immediately went vertical.
"Unbelievable. It was like the Dragster (Top Thrill Dragster) at Cedar Point times 10," Glendening said. "It was awesome."
Glendening admitted that he had a few nerves beforehand after talking to teammate Danny DeKeyser. DeKeyser flew with the Blue Angels last year.
"He gave me a little information and I was a little nervous but it was a blast," Glendening said.
Kuss said the cloud cover prevented them from going as high as they normally do but they did get above the clouds.
"It would be cool if there weren't any clouds but just being up there and being above the clouds, beautiful, sunny day, it was special," Glendening said.
Despite the speed, Glendening said he was able to look around.
"He was awesome," Glendening said. "He put me through some of the paces. I'm sure not what they do but it was awesome. Sometimes we were just cruising around and just got to enjoy the view."
Kuss and the other Blue Angels pilots go through extensive training before being able to fly, so Glendening wasn't expected to be at that level.
"He did great," Kuss said. "I kind of expected it with an NHL athlete of his caliber. But we had a great day out there. I was able to showcase what the aircraft is capable of. We got on top of the cloud layer here, we went upside down, we went slow and fast, we pulled a lot of G and I think he caught up on a little sleep at one point but other than that he did a nice job. So we had a lot of fun."
Most civilians who fly with the Blue Angels either black out, throw up or both at some point.
Glendening was no different.
"I blacked out one time," Glendening said. "I thought I had it but I lost it. It was fun."
Kuss said it's the G-forces that cause people to black out.
"The positive G, when you pull greater than the force of gravity, causes your blood to pull into your lower extremities and thereby you lose oxygen around your ocular vessels and in your brain, so you lose consciousness at that point," Kuss said.
After the flight, Kuss presented Glendening with a Blue Angels lithograph and Glendening gave Kuss a Red Wings jersey.
There's just one catch.
"I’m from Colorado, so I grew up watching the Avalanche but great respect for the strong rivalry between the Red Wings and Avs," Kuss said. "I told him I respected him as a player and was excited to be flying him today. So hopefully that was a mutual conversation."
Glendening said the entire experience exceeded all of his expectations.
"It was unbelievable," Glendening said. "Seriously, you couldn't get the smile off my face up there. It's such a special memory that I'll have forever."