Taking a Ride with NJ National Guard Ahead of Atlantic City Airshow

By Erin Delmore

The Atlantic City Airshow brings hundreds of thousands of people to the boardwalk each summer, but only two fit in the cockpit of this F-16. And this is my lucky day. I’m flying with New Jersey’s best and fastest.

“The Jersey Devils, we’re part of the 177th fighter wing, in Atlantic City, N.J. The 119th fighter squadron is essentially the Jersey Devils that’s our call sign and that’s what we are. We’ve been here for quite some time. We fly out of Pomona Airport, that was what it was called, now it’s Atlantic City International, and I’ve been here since 1992,” said Lt. Colonel Jered Humbert.

Humbert is in charge of getting the 14th annual airshow off the ground, plus my plane! My job: passing a health assessment, getting fitted for gear and learning the dos and don’ts of the highest-speed travel.

Don’t pull the red. Until you pull the red. And when you do, pull it good.

And if you forget, it’s automatic.

Thirty-eight pounds of equipment, including a life preserver and a harness that hooks up to a parachute installed inside the aircraft.

“So when you stand up, you feel it pulling,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jason Gioconda. “That’s what you want, so you don’t fall out.”

“It’s a Nomex flight suit that helps against, in case there was a fire or something like that. You have an anti-G suit on, which is going to help pull the blood up in your upper extremities. That way, keep you from passing out,” Gioconda explained.

Some higher-grade helmets have targeting systems on them. The flying helmet I’m wearing has a microphone and an oxygen mask.

“It’s going to be real hard to breathe. It’s going to pressurize it and to breathe out, you’re going to have to push really hard. Yes. Because it’s going to push air in — it’s reverse breathing. So you’re going to have to push OK?” Gioconda said.

This team pulls 24-hour shifts at a time, protecting the nation’s airspace, especially around New York City and Philadelphia. Me? I’m just along for the ride.

The Jersey Devils usually fly the one-seater. Today, it’s the two-seater, capable of firing 6,000 rounds a minute.

“We took off today and we did the incentive climb, I should say the quick climb. So we took off and accelerated to about oh, 400 mph, then we pulled about 6 Gs into the vertical and climbed up to 7,000 feet, which, as you’re looking back, you see Atlantic City, it’s pretty cool. Then we shot down to over the water, where we were able to rejoin a few other aircraft and do a little formation work so you see what it looks like from close up. After that, we wound up going faster than the speed of sound, so congratulations. Very few people can say they’ve been faster than the speed of sound. And you also have pulled 9 Gs. Which, it’s tough. And it hurts, and I am proud of you that’s great,” said Humbert. “We did some acrobatics, some barrel rolls, split S’s, clover leafs, loops, everything. You name it, we’ve done it. And I can’t believe you asked me twice to do the 9 G profile. That’s pretty crazy.”

And after all that? A leisurely beach tour of Atlantic City and Cape May.

So, how’d I do?

“You did phenomenal. If anyone’s wondering, no, she didn’t use a sick sack, so…,” said Humbert.

So, does that mean I get to come back?

I wish. This ride? It’s one per lifetime. But at least this one ride for one day was all mine.