Blue Angels take ABC7's Jesse Kirsch on ride of a lifetime ahead of Chicago Air and Water Show

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago's Air and Water Show is this weekend, and ahead of the popular summer event, ABC7's Jesse Kirsch took to the sky with some of the best: The U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

"My head might still be spinning after almost an hour aboard Blue Angel #7," Kirsch said.

Kirsch takes us along as he experiences breathtaking panoramas and acrobatics so intense, he says it's "beyond words."

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The flight is all thanks to Lieutenant Julius Bratton, whose sign is "Whiskers" because he's "curious like a cat."

"I took you through just about everything you can do in a jet," Lt. Bratton said.

The acrobatic crew is known for their loops and rolls, especially one maneuver that puts the jets just 18 inches apart.

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The moves are part of their performance that will look incredible from the Chicago lakefront, but what you definitely can't see or feel on the ground are what Kirsch politely calls the "mind-numbing G forces" that are felt in the cockpit as the fighter jet accelerates in new directions.

Think of Gs as supercharged gravity, making your body feel really heavy and making it tough for your heart to pump blood to the brain.

Jordan Walls, #7's crew chief, gave Kirsch a quick lesson, teaching him special breathing techniques which include flexing his leg core and neck muscles to help him stay awake during the ride.

He was even prepared for what the Blue Angels call the "bonus ride," in case they needed to eject - which, luckily, didn't happen.

Strapped in from ankle to shoulder with 'more room than coach," Kirsch joked, he was able to monitor his flight to see how fast they were going and how many Gs they pulled.

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"I'm a little kid again," he said.

As the jet canopy came down for takeoff, Kirsch couldn't hold back a smile. His ears began to pop instantly (very different from flying commercial-not to mention there was more legroom and a switch for adjusting the seat's height) and after the cockpit became airtight, the engines fired up. Blasting A/C competed with jet engines for loudest noise; and Jesse's screams soon filled out the trio.

At one point, for about 20 seconds, he even experienced zero-G, which is the weightlessness of space.

"That is so cool," said Kirsch.

They also hit .95 mach as they approached the speed of sound, making the next part a blur, he said.

Barely slowing down, they then pull straight up on a max performance climb before Whiskers sneaks into vertical rolls.

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At max speed, they felt 7.5 times the force of gravity.

When the jet flew inverted, Kirsch felt the blood rushing to his head.

Kirsch enjoyed the roll maneuver so much, he asked for more and Whiskers obliged with two at once. But Jesse's favorite moment might have been going weightless, feeling Zero G like an astronaut for about 20 seconds. Debris floated by, rotating over itself like in a movie as Kirsch was levitating above his seat. He would've loved to unbuckle and float even more-but that would have been problematic, to say the least, for what came next. Plus, it might have taken him a while to unbuckle from all those straps!

While Kirsch barely held on from passing out, Whiskers incredibly kept flying the jet under those same pressures.

This year the Blue Angels are celebrating their 75th anniversary of stunning audiences, but what's new in 2021 is seeing them flying an FA-18 Super Hornet along the Chicago lakefront.

Whiskers said the newer jets have more powerful engines and can travel farther.

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"The aircraft is larger, so it may appear more in your face -- because it appears that way, you may feel the power, but it is largely the same routine," Whiskers said.

They are also including moves like the max performance turn, which once again, pushes the fighter jet to the limit.

Despite a wild ride, Kirsch said he not only kept his lunch down, but also managed to stay awake the entire time.

"We condensed 'Soaring Wildcat' to 'Soar Cat,' which seems fitting when riding along with 'Whiskers.'" Kirsch said.

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"We condensed 'Soaring Wildcat' to 'Soar Cat,' which seems fitting when riding along with 'Whiskers.'" Kirsch said.



Kirsch turned to Twitter and Instagram for call sign ideas. People sent in some pretty funny ones including Malort, Piping Plover and Alley-Oop. But the one that stuck out to Lt. Bratton was Soaring Wildcat-no complaint from Kirsch, as a Northwestern alum. But Bratton thought it was a bit bulky, so the duo trimmed it down to "Soar Cat," a fitting call sign for riding along with Whiskers!
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