Flight into dreamsMay 11th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
Key Influencer flight lands teacher once in a lifetime opportunity.
Kelly DiMarco has been a teacher in the Plaquemines School System for 15 years. On any given day she works as the Safe Schools CTE-Coordinator, attends school board meetings, and works with the parish youth in innumerable other ways.
On May 4, Kelly DiMarco donned a flight suit and boarded an F-18 “Hornet” fighter jet, and flew with the Blue Angels, who were in Belle Chasse as part of the 2011 N’awlins Air Show.
Dimarco had been chosen for the endeavor because the Guard regards her as a “key influencer” in the community. The Guard works with key influencers—people who come into regular contact with the young men and women of Plaquemines—as part of their recruitment efforts. Because one day, those same young men and women may consider a military career, and when a teen comes to DiMarco for advice on what to do, she will have a positive military experience to refer back on, that will help that teen make the right decisions for his or her life.
On the day of, DiMarco was suited up long before her scheduled flight that afternoon. While the press who had flown that morning (albeit in smaller aircraft) received a twenty-minute phone call and a quick safety briefing on the morning of, DiMarco had been in contact with the Angels’ team for weeks. They had gone over basics—such as what to eat and what to wear—to entire workshops on preparing her body with proper breathing techniques for G-transfers.
“In the G-Transfers, you have to tighten up,” DiMarco said, demonstrating the “Hic-Ka” technique that would focus her breathing and tighten her body properly as the plane went from one G to the next, as far as she could go. DiMarco had been told the force of each transfer can actually move the blood in your body.
As she waited for her family to arrive, DiMarco sat in the lounge, next to the airstrip. She had witnessed the takeoff of the aircraft earlier in the day. Nerves took hold. To calm down, DiMarco talked and recalled the whole of the experience.
“When I first heard about the flight, I felt humbled,” DiMarco said. “Then the second wave was excitement. And since I’m a rational person, the third wave was fear.”
DiMarco even admitted that the night before, doubts had crept in on whether to go through with the flight at all.
“I think about my students,” Dimarco said. “I always tell them to take opportunities. How could I face them if I didn’t do this?”
The Blue Angels’ F-18 landed and taxied in. DiMarco took her place in the F-18 as her family arrived. Kelly’s husband, Jeff, and one of their sons, Grayson, joined Jeff’s mother Sally and family-friend Laurie Carlton at the gate of the runway. The family watched as Lt. Dave Tickle gave DiMarco her final briefing before take off.
Pilot and passenger both donned flight helmets, signaling they were ready. DiMarco looked out and gave a thumbs up. The helmet’s reflective lens blocked her eyes, but everyone could see her smile. She was ready.
The plane taxied to the runway. The family was instructed to put in earplugs if they wanted to remain outside to watch. The force of the take-off alone could cause damage.
The plane idled at the end of the runway, awaiting the all clear. Then quiet seconds burst with the engines as the F-18 took off, bolting into a fast-paced and near vertical climb and then disappearing from sight.
The forty-five-minute ride took DiMarco into restricted air space, where the pilot and plane would have the freedom to perform all the arial feats the Angels are known for, pushing DiMarco as far as she could go.
When the aircraft had landed and the canopy had been opened, DiMarco smiled. Her family rushed to the plane and watched her shakily step down the ladder from the F-18 cockpit, aided down by the Lt.
“I passed out more than once,” DiMarco said. “My body couldn’t take more than 4 G’s.”
The family stood patient as DiMarco was handed a plaque to commemorate her flight. Pictures were snapped. When her family finally had a chance to ask DiMarco about the flight, the only question they had was, well, how was it?
“I can’t even say, it was beautiful,” Dimarco responded.
But something in her smile told all of the experience. It was once in a lifetime, and through the stress and exhaustion, it was above a thrill, and only by going through all of it could anyone ever understand. Words would simply ruin it for her.
The best description anyone could give, would simply be to gesture toward one of the Blue Angels’ F-18, like the one nesting outside the Belle Chasse base, and to say, “Yeah, I was on that.”