Air Combat U.S.A.

Best Way to Fly, August 2004

We’re sure that having a pilot’s license is grand, but getting one seems so, well, involved—the trips to the airport, the exams, and all those hours spent sealed in the sort of wobbly craft that’s always slamming into neighborhoods. With Air Combat USA , we sat through a 60-minute lecture before we were at the controls of a spunky German stunt plane, dogfighting 4,000 feet above the Pacific. Wearing a flight suit and playing pilot may sound ripe for World War II reenactors, but it’s so much more than that. Guys who’ve flown for the military sit at the rear of both cockpits, guiding the planes until we’re at a level altitude and buzzing toward the coastline. “You can take over now,” our guide says, and we do, sending the wings tilting left, then right, then left again as we try to adjust to the joystick. Soon the bright sky that suffused our Plexiglas canopy vanishes; the tip of the plane barrels toward the dim patchwork of Palos Verdes Peninsula before we come out of the loop, firing our laser madly at the construction contractor in the other plane. A cord of smoke unspools from his fuselage, and it’s all caught on three video cameras. By the time we touch down at Fullerton Municipal Airport we are soaked with sweat and feeling altogether top gun. Mission accomplished, indeed.