Blue Angels take principals for a ride

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(Courtesy of Joe Nickle) Benton High School principal Mitch Downey gets strapped in prior to his flight with the Blue Angels.
(Courtesy of Joe Nickle) Bossier Parish Technical School students Zack Wortham and Jasmine Frazier were on the flight line to cheer on principal Jayda Spillers.
(Courtesy of Joe Nickle)
Bossier Parish Technical School students Zack Wortham and Jasmine Frazier were on the flight line to cheer on principal Jayda Spillers.

More than 120,000 people flocked to Barksdale Air Force Base this past weekend for the 2015 Defenders of Liberty Air Show. But the crowds, static displays of old war birds, and Blue Angels only tell part of the story, a story that two special community members got to see the rest of.

Local principals — Jayda Spillers the “Flying Ace” and Mitch Downey the “Rocket Man” — earned their new nicknames after getting the rare experience of soaring with the Navy’s Blue Angels.

Spins, flying upside down and pulling more than seven G’s — the equivalent to experiencing seven times the normal gravitational force — were all part of the experience of the air show for these two Bossier educators.

“It was awesome!” exclaimed Spillers, the principal at Bossier Parish Technical School. “When we were upside down for a while, I felt like I was coming out of my seat. I loved the rolls because you can see everything.”

One highlight she mentioned was flying over Wright Patman Lake in Texarkana.

“There were some people on the lake fishing and we turned upside down over them. That was pretty cool!”

As part of Navy Week, and in the lead-up to the Defenders of Liberty Air Show at Barksdale Air Force Base, the school principals volunteered and were selected to go up with the Blue Angels. It was the thrill of a lifetime, although for Benton High Principal Downey, once was enough.

“I’m glad I did it, but I don’t want to do it again!” he said after his flight. Captain Jeff Kuss, the Blue Angel pilot who flew Spillers and Downey, said they almost went the speed of sound.

“There is nothing like that. It is so intense!” Downey said. He then laughed, adding “I’ve got to go get a bigger motorcycle. One with a bigger motor.”

Family members and a group of students from BPTS and Benton High gathered to cheer on their school leaders. Zack Wortham and Jasmine Frazier were impressed by Spillers pulling 7.5 G’s.

Josh Caskey, Jenny Cox and Greg Johnson were videotaping Downey’s flight.

“How many principals ride to school on a Harley?” Caskey said.

“And now fly in a jet?” Cox added.