SAN DIEGO — “Ready, hit it!” is the cue to tightly tense every muscle in your lower body and core and violently exhale in short bursts to avoid passing out.
It’s the technique US Navy Blur Angels pilots master while flying the f-18 Super hornet, and the same technique taught to guest riders lucky enough to secure a backseat ride ahead of the Miramar Air Show.
FOX 5 Weather Anchor Megan Healy was selected as the Blue Angel media rider alongside Rikki Betancourt, assistant principal of Coronado High School, who was selected as the “key influencer” rider.
Betancourt was honored for her work as an educator for 13 years and mentor for the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being extremely nervous, Megan took a temperature check on how Nikki was feeling ahead of the wild ride.
“I’m probably sitting comfortably at 8, maybe a 7,” Betancourt said. “I’ll probably feel better once I’m in the cockpit and then after that initial climb I’ll say, ‘I got this.’”
Betancourt’s brother and boyfriend, both Navy pilots, helped her prepare to endure the fast twists and turns during the 40-minute ride.
“Even though they told me exactly how it was going to be, I just watched YouTube videos, breathed, got some sleep — kind of,” Nikki said, laughing.
Both riders also hit the gym to stay in shape for the strenuous ride along, focusing on lower body, core strength and stamina.
The pilots briefed the guest riders on the safety protocols and “hick” breathing techniques early Wednesday.
For someone who undergoes high g-force for a living, it’s all about the muscle tension.
“I think about a beach ball in between my legs and squeeze my beach ball to get the groin muscles and everything firing and then push my heels against the deck,” said Lt. Commander Thomas Zimmerman, Blue Angel Pilot No. 7.
Years of lacrosse helped the Baltimore, Maryland native as a Blue Angels pilot. He played the sport throughout high school and college and got recruited to play for United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He joined the military as a Naval Aviator after graduation and eventually went on to attend TOPGUN, the Navy Fighter Weapons School. Lt. Commander Zimmerman joined the Blue Angels in September 2022 and has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours under his belt.
He took the riders through some G-force warm-ups between 500 and 1000 feet over a very blue Pacific Ocean.
“Even at two Gs, we can breathe normally and we won’t pass out,” he explained.
Eventually, working their way up to the highest G-force maneuver of the day, “sneak to vertical rolls” with a peak of 7.5 Gs.
“After a 30 to 40-minute ride and coming back down, this was a lot on the body,” Betancourt said. “It almost feels like you went through an intense workout.”
“I feel a little nauseous after that one,” Healy said after Lt. Commander Zimmerman took her cloud surfing.
“Sorry about that,” he responded with a chuckle.
Neither Megan nor Nikki threw up from the motion, but they did pass out at one point during the ride.
Megan didn’t remember passing out but a few seconds later, she woke up dazed and confused.
The riders also got to fly upside down, experience zero gravity and take in the beautiful view.
“Yeah, isn’t it pretty cool? Especially above a canopy like this,” Lt. Commander Zimmerman said.
“We teach [students] in school obviously about all the stuff they should learn, but in terms of life experiences things like this, say yes, enjoy yourself,” Betancourt said.