OCEAN CITY – Lt. Colonel John Klatt and the Air National Guard are in Ocean City this weekend performing in the OC Air Show, exemplifying the many benefits the Air National Guard has to offer, as well as finding the time to give this reporter an experience of a lifetime.
On Thursday morning, I woke up focused on meeting deadline later that day, trying not to focus on meeting Klatt and what that trip might entail.
Arriving at the airport, I did not know what to expect. Whether I would be tagging along in the “chase plane” that would fly beside Klatt and his companion pilot Jeff Boerboon, while photographer Chris Parypa snapped away, or if I would actually be climbing into Klatt’s MXS, an aerobatic performance aircraft.
I quickly learned the offer was on the table to fly with Klatt and take part in bits and pieces of the aerobatic performance he would be performing later this weekend at the 6th Annual OC Air Show. There was only a couple minutes to decide my fate when I realized this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and there was no way I was turning it down.
Taking off was no big deal, I thought to myself, as we headed out over the Atlantic Ocean flying over the Inlet and taking in the spectacular view of Ocean City’s skyline from high above.
At first, we flew in formation with Boerboon posing for the camera, and just as I was getting comfortable I heard Klatt say over the headset, “Let’s pull a 180 and go farther out to start some fun.” A few minutes later, I found myself flying upside down face to face with the ocean forcing a smile for the camera.
Before I could realize what was about to happen, Klatt quickly pulled away from the chase plane and pulled us straight up while G forces pushed me back into my seat, and that is when I knew this flight was about to get intense.
From there we went through a series of hammer head turn arounds, loops and stalls, and multiple snap rolls. Between the time I had my eyes open and closed I was either facing the blue skies or the water. It was the most amazing, yet terrifying, thrill I have had in my life and will never regret it.
“You got a pretty aggressive ride,” Klatt said once we returned to the ground. “It was pretty intense, and you did really well. I am glad you came out to see what being an air show pilot is all about.”
As a military pilot, a commercial airline pilot, and a world-class air show performer, Klatt has amassed more than 15,000 hours of flight time and has become known for precision, discipline and showmanship.
“My dad, Robert, is a great man and was an airline mechanic, so we were a really hard-working middle-class family,” he said. “I am the youngest of seven kids, so he struggled to put us all through school. The Air National Guard was something as a young person that I could find a way to get these skills without paying for them.”
Klatt recalled attending air shows at the age of 13 looking up at the sky at some of the air show heroes that are still flying today.
“It was magical to see what they could do with an airplane, and it planted the seed for me to have a career in aviation and the Guard was a vehicle for me,” he said.
Klatt started flying lessons at age 17, and while studying communications at the University of Minnesota, he earned his pilot’s license. After graduating from college, Klatt attended the Air National Guard training school in Knoxville, Tenn., then went on to Air Force pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. With wings in hand, he returned home to join the Air National Guard’s 133rd Airlift Wing in St. Paul, Minn. and later transferred to the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, Minn.
“We are here to represent the Air National Guard,” Klatt said. “I’ve been in the National Guard for 23 years as a traditional guardsman and have had a blessed aviation career but the Air National Guard provided me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have had with flying.”
Throughout his Air National Guard career, Klatt has flown humanitarian, combat and combat support missions. He initially checked out in the C-130 Hercules, in which he flew relief missions. He also flew the Hercules throughout Europe and over Sarajevo, as part of Operation Sarajevo Relief in 1995. In the U.S., he flew missions in support of a number of space shuttle launches.
Once he transferred to a fighter wing, Klatt flew the F-16 “Fighting Falcon”, on numerous missions, including combat air patrols over Washington and New York for two years after the 9/11 attacks in support of Operation Noble Eagle. As a fighter pilot, he was deployed to Iraq three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2009, in combat and combat support roles.
In 1990, John began flying aerobatics, for the pure love of the experience. In 1993 he bought his first aerobatic airplane, a Pitts S1C, and kept learning. To challenge himself further, he began competing in regional and national aerobatic competitions. In 2001, he started to fly in air shows and quickly became known as one of the top performers in the country.
Today, Klatt is partnered with the Air National Guard as a full-time professional air show performer. In his Air National Guard MXS all carbon-fiber unlimited aerobatic aircraft, Klatt thrills millions of spectators each year with an incredible display of aerobatic skill and creativity. At speeds of more than 250 mph, he rolls, soars, tumbles and dives through a sequence of highly choreographed and practiced maneuvers.
“Today we are here to represent the Guard at the Ocean City Air Show and tell the folks of the local area about all the great benefits the Guard has to offer … we enjoy being here and giving folks a ride and sharing the gift of flight with the people,” Klatt said.
The National Guard Mobile Experience will be located on the grounds of the OC Air Show this weekend and is a free experience that provides people an opportunity to participate in simulated challenges that replicate the real life experiences of Air Guard men and women during basic military training, technical school and on drill weekend.
“There are some fun challenges,” Klatt said of the Mobile Experience. “It really is going to be a fun weekend and I am really excited to tell the folks about what the Guard is all about.”
The Air National Guard is a reserve component of the United States Air Force. Air National Guard members receive comprehensive training in some of the most technologically advanced skills the military has to offer. In fact, the Air National Guard offers training in nearly 200 career fields; ranging from communications and engineering, to technology and healthcare. This high-quality training attracts many Air Guardsmen who want to learn and excel in the high-tech careers of the 21st century.
There are more than 140 Air National Guard bases in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Many Air Guardsmen live in their hometowns and serve at the nearest air base.
“What is different than active duty in the Navy, Air Force and Marines, which are all great services, but the unique thing about the Guard is that you can serve from your own hometown and have a career while flying the highest most technical airplanes,” Klatt said.
Klatt lives in Minnesota with his wife, Deborah, and two children, Leah, 14, and Daniel, 12. While at home, he works at the Joint Force Headquarters building.
“I have a family that is supportive of me because it is a lot of days out on the road,” he said. “My wife is a super trooper with the kids and raising a family. We have a pretty good team effort.”
Klatt is proud to be part of the Air National Guard and is having a hard time thinking of having to leave the service one day.
“It is an amazing deal, the Guard is, and it is a huge part of the total force now days,” he said. “We are deployed all around the world and all around the nation taking care of domestic operations when bad things happen or when hurricanes or tornadoes happen, things of that nature…I really enjoy flying air shows. Airplanes are my passion, so it is fun to be able to do this kind of thing, and I am really blessed to share the gifts I have been given with the folks that come out. It is a life experience.”