Sky Combat Ace brings aerial thrills over Lake Tahoe (video)
Let’s face it, at some point in all our lives, we’ve cranked up the Kenny Loggins hit song “Danger Zone” in our cars and pretended we were one of the jet pilots from the 1986 classic film “Top Gun.”
With Sky Combat Ace (SCA) now offering rides over Lake Tahoe, you can take your aerobatic flying fantasy from the car to the sky.
What is Sky Combat Ace? The Las Vegas-based company was founded in 2011 by ex-Air Force fighter pilot, Richard “Tex” Coe, and offers flights in one of its several aerobatic planes.
To make it even more of an extreme experience, you actually get to perform the maneuvers. That’s correct — you fly. After the pilot performs the maneuver, they will let you take the control stick and guide you through the maneuver, even the advanced ones that have you spinning, climbing and diving in all directions.
“Everyone has been very welcoming [in Tahoe],” said Coe. “We feel like we have a fun, new set of friends here.”
SCA has two other locations outside of the one it opened at Lake Tahoe Airport a couple months ago — Las Vegas and San Diego.
“Coming from Vegas, we wanted to try something a little change of pace so we decided Lake Tahoe was the best fit for our next location,” said Coe. “Pretty much anywhere that has tourism and good weather, this will do really well.”
Coe said another reason that made the Tahoe region appealing, aside from flying in the heart of the Sierras, was the location. According to him, it’s about a 90 minute flight from their home base in Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe so traveling between SCA locations is a breeze.
Depending on how extreme you want to get, SCA offers several different flight experiences. You can take the basic “spectator” package that allows you to fly alongside one of the aerobatic planes and take in the excitement or you can work your way up to the “Top Gun,” which will include multiple aerobatic maneuvers. SCA even has the option simulated air combat, where you are in a dogfight with another plane.
The planes they use aren’t just any ordinary stunt airplanes. The particular one that flies out of Lake Tahoe is the Extra 330LC. According to Coe, this is the most advanced aerobatic plane on the market and there isn’t a single position that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the plane to be in. Coe said the Extra 330LC is basically made for the Lake Tahoe region due to its features.
“We know Tahoe is an environmentally sensitive area,” said Coe. “We purchased an airplane that is 40-percent quieter that other airplanes of it’s type. We’re trying to be good neighbors and preserve the natural beauty around here. We make sure we’re operating in a responsible manner at each location.”
Coe said they started out with just two planes at their Las Vegas location, but have grown to have several more planes and pilots. Although Coe is the head honcho at SCA, having flown several combat missions in aircrafts such as an F-16 Fighting Falcon, the other pilots can hold their own. All of them are certified aerobatic instructor pilots with thousands of hours of flying time logged. One of the pilots, Ken Ham, is an ex-astronaut, so no matter whom you fly with, you’ll be in good hands.
If you’re curious about the maneuvers, they have some pretty interesting names. A couple of the advanced maneuvers, for example, are the “hammerhead” and the “tailslide.” Although hard to explain without a diagram, the hammerhead goes straight up and corkscrews into a vertical U-turn then goes back down into a corkscrew. The tailslide flies directly upward until you reach zero airspeed, then the airplane falls backward until the nose flips from the weight of the engine.
The SCA experience does take into account that some people may be more sensitive to the maneuvers than others, so there is a progression that gauges how well you can handle the flight.
“It’s half exciting, half terrifying,” said Alicia Metzger just before taking her flight. “I’m kind of still in the phase of thinking to myself ‘what’s happening?’ And taking in all the info, but it looks like it will be pretty fun.”
Metzger and her husband Jamie, of Los Angeles, were in Stateline for the Jack Johnson concert last week so Jamie decided to surprise Alicia with the flight as her five-year wedding anniversary gift.
As the cherry on top for the Top Gun experience and a few other of the packages, the airplane flies over Desolation Wilderness to run a simulated airstrike.
While approaching the strike area, the pilot will be relaying info to you about the descent and location of the enemy and gives you the instruction to fire away.
Most flights will take about 30 minutes to complete and prices vary, depending on which experience you choose.
I actually flew in the Top Gun experience, and although I started to wonder why I agreed to do it for the Tribune, the experience ended up feeling much more safe than I had anticipated. Coe was my pilot and did an amazing job at managing the thrills while also checking in with me to make sure I was feeling alright and able to continue.
Coe’s Aussie wife, Pandora, is the perfect person to give you the briefings before the flight and explain the process. She was extremely friendly and added to the overall experience. She really knows how to loosen people up and get you ready to go. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.
SCA operates Thursday through Sunday. As part of the experience, photos and a video will be provided.