When I was a little kid, I told my mom that “when I grow up, I want to be a Fighter pilot”. Her reply was, predictably, “Oh honey, you can’t do both”.
How right she was.
Fighter pilots are masters of sophomoric, imbecilic humor. Our call signs alone give testament to that. My personal call sign from my fighter pilot days, “Pig”, was bequeathed to me after a particularly flatulent and funny event that forces the women in my life to leave the room every time I recount the story. But I digress.
So naturally, it was with exuberant enthusiasm that I agreed to fly the L-39 in support of the hit TruTV show Impractical Jokers. If you haven’t seen the show, you should…especially If you like stupid, irreverent humor that creates cringe-worthy moments that you actually feel embarrassed to watch. Good stuff.
When I took the call from the show’s producer, my response was eloquent and simple: “So let me get this straight-You mean that I get to fly a jet fighter, be on TV and mess with someone? Sign me up.”
We agreed to shoot the episode in September. There was much pre-shoot coordination to do, and the producers and those of us here at Acrojet got busy educating each other on our relative expertise to ensure we had a safe, legal and entertaining shoot. In lieu of any reimbursement for Acrojet, we arranged for Eagle One, a local volunteer search and rescue company, to accept a check from the Impractical Jokers’ production company. Many thanks!
When that fateful day arrived a cast of thousands descended on our little airport…at 0600! The crew was amazing and efficient (I don’t think any of them were in their thirties yet). The crew got busy prepping the site, and rigging the jet for the inflight video and audio that was required.
The plan was pretty simple. The Jokers were shooting their season finale, which is a salute to veterans. Kristi and I are both Air Force vets, and we own a jet fighter. We were perfect for this. For this episode, Murray failed at some previously undisclosed task and must be punished. His punishment was to fly in the back seat of a jet fighter. That’s right – Murr. The guy who is afraid of heights, hates airplanes, is claustrophobic, and cries like a little girl.
What could possibly go wrong?
About 0800 our good friend and fellow L-39 driver Larry Labriola showed up in his jet from HPN. Larry graciously agreed to fly the camera jet so that we could get inflight video of Murr’s ride from hell in the back of our jet. We would put a camera man in the back seat of Larry’s jet. Larry and I are frequent formation flying partners- he was perfect for this mission.
About mid-day the cast members showed up. I can honestly say that their on-screen personalities are exactly as they are in person. They are awesome…and stupid funny. I briefed Murr personally before our flight. As you can imagine, things can go wrong pretty fast in a jet fighter, so we spent a lot of time briefing what to do in case of an emergency. This is deadly serious stuff; which only raised Murr’s already heightened anxiety level. I also took the opportunity to mess with him a little. I couldn’t resist.
The cameras were rolling as Kristi strapped Murr into the back of the jet. I was afraid that he was going to vomit before we got airborne. Kristi tried to calm him down as she made sure he was settled in the cockpit, but don’t forget, she is an ass-kicking jet pilot herself, so she had to push through her “you gotta be shitting me Murr” thoughts and offer up any kind of encouragement she could muster while sounding sincere. That is when I’m pretty sure Murr started hyperventilating.
Time to go!
We blasted off with a 10 second interval takeoff with Larry in the lead jet. I joined up on his wing at 200 knots and that is when Murr started screaming. He was not having fun. I thought he might wet himself. We hadn’t even done anything of significance yet and he was in a full-blown panic.
That’s when I started with the aerobatics. Aileron rolls. Barrel rolls- a couple g’s at most.
And that’s when I lost him.
Murr had a code word that meant “I am not acting, I am done. Stop this now”
He threw that code word down after being airborne only 20 minutes.
I could have ignored him, but I do have a soul. So I called “knock it off” to Larry, and we turned around and headed for home. Murr was now dry- heaving in the back seat. He sounded like a dog throwing up. It’s no fun to listen to someone in that much agony, so I turned off the intercom.
I think he relaxed a bit when he knew we were in the traffic pattern to land, but he must have missed that point in the briefing when I described the overhead pattern that all jet fighters use to get on the ground. That 4g break turn hit him hard. The dry heaves and screaming resumed.
We touched down and he mumbled something about “God, Jesus, and mommy”. When we shut down, he was barely able to get out. In fact, I think 110lb Kristi pulled him out and set him back on terra firma.
I’ve got to say, I have a lot of respect for Murray and all of the Jokers. They will endure way more agony and punishment than most people I know, day after day, week after week, just to entertain us.
And entertaining it was. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.