(BAILEY REUTZEL ~ breutzelsemissourian.com)
Rob Bunger, a certified athletic trainer at Saint Francis Medical Center, and Neil Berry, the head principal at Fort Zumwalt West high school in O'Fallon, Mo., were given ride-alongs Wednesday. The flights started at 1 p.m. at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, and each got a 30- to 45-minute ride through the clouds.
Bunger, who has spent many years working with high school athletes and Boy Scouts, was the first to get strapped into the F/A-18 Hornet with Lt. C.J. Simonsen.
"I can't explain it to its fullest and what it deserves; it was just awesome," said Bunger after pulling seven G's and flying just under the speed of sound.
The trips that Bunger and Berry took were "KI flights, or known influencer flights," said John Dissauer, KFVS12 meteorologist and publicity liaison for the air festival. "Navy recruiters nominate people who are influential to the youth so they can pass on the experience."
After Navy personnel choose who will fly, those people are notified closer to the time of the nearest air show where the Blue Angels will appear. The individuals chosen had to fill out an application form, write an essay explaining why they influence young people and want to take the flight and complete a physical to make sure they're healthy enough for the ride.
Dissauer took a third ride-along flight for the media.
"For me it's the No. 1 thing on my bucket list," Dissauer said. "Getting to ride on a $20 million jet is pretty cool."
He said he had wanted to be a pilot ever since he was 10 years old and saw footage of the Blue Angels in the video for the Van Halen song "Dreams."
After the flight in the F/A-18, he said, "It was amazing and extremely exhausting. The physical demands to ride in it is incredible."
The Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival is Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go to www.capeairfestival.com.
860 Limbaugh Drive, Scott City, MO