Forward Devin Setoguchi took the ride of his life on Tuesday morning when he flew with the world famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who are in the region for this weekend’s Salinas Air Show.
There may have been a tiny bit of nerves before the flight, but Setoguchi took the ride for all it was worth, maxing out at 7.5 Gs, basically feeling more than seven times his body weight (around 1,500 pounds).
The day began with a 6:45 a.m. report time for a preparation meeting to discuss what would happen during the flight. Plus, there was the obligatory signing of a waiver saying the government was not responsible if a plane crashed (which brought a good laugh from the flyers). The morning orientation covered proper breathing techniques to avoid passing out, what to do in case the morning breakfast was coming back up and how to react in case of a “bonus ride” (an emergency ejection).
In reality, flying in a Blue Angels plane is about as safe as a person can be as a passenger is in the care of the world’s top aviators and planes. In Setoguchi’s case, he was in the capable hands of Lt. Ben Walborn, his pilot in the F/A 18 Hornet fighter craft.
During the flight, Setoguchi not only experienced the 7.5 Gs, but also negative Gs when the Hornet would almost hover far above the ground.
If the flight was a test, Setoguchi passed with flying colors.
“We pulled 7.5 Gs, rolled him and looped him,” Walborn said. “We got him supersonic
By “supersonic,” Walborn was referring to the fact that Setoguchi has now traveled beyond the speed of sound: 768 miles per hour.
Setoguchi had no need for the air sickness bag or to ask the pilot to ease off during the adventure.
“It was a walk in the park for him,” Walborn said. “He was so calm.”
Maybe on the outside, anyway.
“I was a little nervous before I got there,” Setoguchi said.
If anything, the experience has changed the way Setoguchi thinks about fighter pilots.
“You get an appreciation for what they can do,” Setoguchi said. “I’m a little stuck for the right words.”
Walborn immediately took Setoguchi to 4.5 Gs with a take off that immediately moved the nose up towards the sky at hundreds of miles per hour.
“The take off was pretty cool,” Setoguchi said. “It feels like you were shot right back into your seat. We did barrel roles and the maneuver like when you’re going to drop a bomb. It was incredible.”
The scenery wasn’t bad either.
“We went out over the ocean and it felt like we were within five feet of the water, even though it was about 200 feet,” he said.
Setoguchi acknowledged feeling a bit of tunnel vision beginning at one point as he felt the blood leaving his upper body, but he used the breathing exercise he learned earlier in the morning to refocus.
“If you’re not breathing the right way, you can pass out,” Setoguchi said. “You can feel your eyesight start to narrow.”
Upon landing, like all flyers, the legs weren’t quite ready and the feeling in his lower body took a bit to come back.
“I was a little queasy the first steps off the plane,” Setoguchi said. “My legs feel pretty tired.”
Besides having a newfound respect for fighter pilots, Setoguchi sincerely appreciated Walborn’s skills.
“He was a great guy, plus he got me up and he got me down safely,” Setoguchi said with a laugh.
For a person whose life has included representing his country internationally and an early life in the National Hockey League, this event ranked high for the 22-year-old.
“It’s right up there with pretty much anything,” he said.
The California International Air Show will run from Aug. 7-9 and will included visits from not only the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, but also the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team and many other air attractions. More information can be found at www.salinasairshow.com