Columnist Bryce Donovan takes to the sky with the Blue Angels — and then immediately to the barf bag

Blue Angels pilot C.J. Simonsen had a blast while taking Post and Courier columnist Bryce Donovan on a high-speed jet ride of twists and turns, climbs and dives. As for Donovan, well, he got a little sick.

Wade Spees

I've never had more fun vomiting in my entire life.

On Wednesday, not far above the treetops and steeples of downtown Charleston, I got the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels, something I've dreamed about for as long as I can remember. By which I mean since last month, when I found out they had a media ride available.

But be that as it may, in the 30 or so days leading up to the flight, I got so excited about the prospect of pulling seven Gs that I actually took the time to look up what that means. (Turns out it's seven times the force of gravity on your body, not $7,000.)

So when the phone call finally came through telling me I was one of the lucky three selected to fly with them out of the Charleston Air Force Base, I was beyond ecstatic.

When I arrived at the base I was immediately escorted into a conference room where I was briefed on what to expect during my flight. Things like how to prevent passing out, what buttons I shouldn't press and that carry-on items are $35 a piece. After that I got suited up and prepared for my flight.

My co-pilot for the day would be Lt. C.J. Simonsen, or as I liked to call him, "Goose." (Actually I never called him Goose, but I did insist he refer to me as "Maverick" the entire time.)

Not only is Simonsen an incredible pilot -- he's been flying F/A-18 hornets for the Blue Angels for almost two years now -- but he's a great guy too, as evidenced by his ability to find the positive in virtually any circumstance.

Exhibit A: Two minutes into our flight I had the air-sickness bag out and was putting my lunch into it when the following conversation ensued:

C.J.: "How's it going back there?"

ME: (Puking sound.)

C.J.: "All right. Good job. And most of it looks to be getting in the bag."

I probably would have thought he was being sarcastic if I didn't know he was the one who had to clean up the jet afterward.

And just for the record, if there was any mess in there it definitely would have been mine and not from either of the folks who flew before me, Angelica Christie and Bryan Hearn.

They did so well (neither passed out or threw up) that I'm convinced they cheated and didn't stay up drinking the night before like I did.

Anyway, during our 45-minute flight over the Lowcountry, Simonsen demonstrated all sorts of acrobatic maneuvers like barrel rolls and Immelman turns (I'd describe this to you but I blacked out two seconds in) before taking us down low over the water and kicking in the afterburners until we eventually broke the sound barrier.

Though all of this was incredible and surreal, I was so nauseous that I kept thinking to myself, "When is this going to be over?"

Mercifully, Simonsen finally asked if I was ready to head back home.

Minutes later, as the wheels touched down and my world slowly stopped spinning around me, I took a moment to comprehend the amazing thrill ride I had just experienced. I had just done something very few people ever get to do. I got to kiss the sky. Carve through the clouds. Defy gravity.

Now that it's all sunk in, I can honestly say that with the exception of my wedding day, flying with the Blue Angels was the single greatest day of my life. Which, if you think about it, is kind of odd.

After all, who spends the majority of the two most meaningful days of their life throwing up?

About the air shows

The Blue Angels shows on Saturday and Sunday could bring as many people into the area as the recent Cooper River Bridge Run.

That event drew nearly 40,000 people.

To head off gridlock, officials are asking anyone coming into Charleston or Mount Pleasant to be prepared for delays, and they suggested car pools and alternative transportation.

“The key term for the entire weekend is going to be flexibility and patience,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a press conference Wednesday.

And if you live in Charleston, you could be receiving a phone call announcing the event. Police are using their reverse 911 technology to warn residents to expect noise and traffic issues over the coming days.


WHEN: There will be two one-hour performances over Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m. both days. Practice runs will be held over the harbor today between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 3 and 4 p.m.

Also on Friday between 2:30 and 4 p.m.

F-18 jets are loud.

WHERE TO WATCH: Anywhere on the Charleston and Mount Pleasant waterfronts will present good viewing. The city is suggesting the Maritime Center, Waterfront Park, White Point Garden and The Battery, Liberty Square/Concord Park at Calhoun and Concord streets.

Mount Pleasant is promoting the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and aboard the USS Yorktown. Fees may be applicable, including Patriots Point’s $3 parking fee. Free access for pedestrians.

BATHROOMS: Portable units will begin arriving Friday, set up in strategic locations.

ALCOHOL: Public consumption won’ be allowed anywhere.

VIEWING FROM PARKING GARAGES: Will be restricted because of safety issues and weight levels. Fire marshals will be monitoring the top levels.

VIEWING FROM THE ARTHUR Jr. RAVENEL BRIDGE: The bridge will stay open to vehicular traffic during the shows but speeds will be slowed. The pedestrian walkways will be closed during the shows and practice times.

Officials said it’s a safety issue, since the walkway was not designed to hold large numbers of people at once.

PARKING GARAGES: Sites around the city will be open, some charging an hourly rate and others a flat fee of $5.

SHUTTLES: Service will be provided from the parking area at Brittlebank Park on Lockwood Drive and MUSC’s Fishburne Street parking lots behind the Charleston Police Department. Cost for parking will be $5 per vehicle.

Shuttles leaving Brittlebank Park will take viewers to White Point Garden, and shuttles leaving Fishburne Street will drop off viewers at the Waterfront Park area. Shuttles will return viewers to the parking lots after the show. Shuttles will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

HANDICAP: Handicap parking will be located in the parking lot in front of the Greenberg Building at 180 Lockwood Drive. Shuttles will be provided and will take viewers to White Point Garden or Waterfront Park.

SPECIAL ADVISORY: Viewers are advised to bring water for themselves and their family; it will be warm both days. Small coolers will be allowed for carrying water and snacks.

BOATERS: A 2-mile-by-3,000- foot box, running from the harbor side of the Ravenel Bridge to Shutes Folly Island off The Battery, will be closed to boats and anchoring during the shows. Boating spectator areas are being set up outside the safety zone.

RADIO BROADCAST: Narration of the Blue Angels performance will be broadcast on 98.9 FM Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 3 p.m. A member of the flight team will do the voice-over.

Schuyler Kropf