If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It! – Air Combat USA

What is the perfect gift for a man? No, what is the ultimate first anniversary gift for an amazing husband who has given me everything in life? My husband, Darren, and I just had our first anniversary and I wanted to come up with a unique, special gift that reflected our relationship. Surf lessons? Nah, I’m having way too much fun watching him getting his butt kicked by waves while we try to learn ourselves.  A new backpack or camping gear? Still not good enough. I wanted a different kind of present altogether: an experiential gift! I closed my eyes and imagined him scouring the skies in a real military aircraft, engaging in aerial combat, and returning to base VICTORIOUS! As a wife, I was capable of making my husband’s greatest dreams of being a fighter pilot come true with Air Combat USA. The price tag on the “Top Gun” experience offered by Air Combat USA in Fullerton is about $1,300, but the experience is priceless.  It was a worthy gift, symbolic of our first adventure-filled year together.
Air Combat USA is the ORIGINAL civilian dogfighting school in the world. They are the innovators of air combat training for civilians. They set the standard for program design and execution, offering a fighter pilot experience second to none. Their guest pilots fly real fighters with licensed fighter pilots in the cockpit with them. All aircrafts are outfitted with high-end digital multi-camera systems to capture your fighter pilot experience.

On Saturday, January 14th, Darren’s morning started with a full military briefing consisting of basic air combat maneuvers (ACM), high and low yo-yo’s, lead, lag, and pure pursuit, gun sight tracking, the “rules of engagement”, safety brief, physiological effects of “G” forces, and the flying characteristics of both the SIAI Marchetti SF260 and the Extra 300L.

Fully briefed, I watched Darren zip into a flight suit and strap into an aerobatic, Italian-built fighter. Within 15 seconds of take-off, Darren was in full control of a 300 horse-power, 1700-pound, military fighter aircraft.

After take-off, he learned the art of formation flying on the way to the practice area. As a wingman, Darren’s role was to stay to the right, back, and lower than his leader. Even from the ground, I could see the focus, finesse, and precision required in formation flying. It was a compellingly beautiful experience to witness both planes line up in the sky above.

In the skies over the Pacific Ocean, accompanied by a licensed fighter pilot in the cockpit, Darren practiced mock fighting another plane flown by a fellow adrenaline-seeking customer. Straining under high G, out-smarting and out-maneuvers the other pilot was the top priority. Each pilot was given the opportunity to be the practice aggressor before being set loose on the real dogfight.

The other fighter plane came almost head-on into Darren and passed on his left; that was the beginning of their dogfight. Darren did a high yo-yo, pulled on the stick, went vertical, and cranked his neck up in order not to lose sight of his enemy. On top of the half-loop, almost weightless, he rolled the plane and dove behind his target. He sighted the enemy aircraft in the center of his gun sight . “GUNS! GUNS! GUNS!” The gun sight video cameras recorded his “kill” as the other aircraft billowed smoke. Watching the video after his flight left me with feelings of pride. Not only did he love the experience, but he was very successful during the journey.

We both put a great deal of value on having new life experiences as opposed to accumulating stuff and these memories will last a lifetime. Darren said, “Dogfighting is the most adventurous thing I’ve ever done in my life! It’s speed; it’s freedom; it’s guts; it’s finesse; it’s focus; it’s skill; it’s the best gift you could have given me!” I was truly successful in giving a unique, special gift housing memories that will last a lifetime. What do you have planned for your significant other in the near future? Maybe Air Combat USA could be in your gun sight.


Staying in Touch with My Inner Top Gun

“The helicopter is evidence of how man’s imagination can be given physical form.” ~Wheeler, Howard A.

Come Be Part of the Sky – My First Airplane Pilot Lesson

150 thoughts on “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It! – Air Combat USA

  1. I did this with my son at barnstorming down in san diego. We did a dogfight against each other over Del Mar pushing 3g’s. I was in knots but it was awesome. This yr we are doing the simulators in Anaheim. Such a cool gift


  2. That is amazing, how FUN. My hubby is a lover of the ocean, you’ve given me a great idea to give him a birthday gift to experience being back on one of his beloved ships… we also prefer to purchase “To-Do” gifts as opposed to the “Stuff”


    • We both have the fondest memories of doing things like this together and we hope that we can continue that tradition even after our daughter is born. I can’t wait to experience new countries, cultures, and adventures with her, and my husband, at my side. I truly believe that experience is the best gift!



  3. I have no doubt that all the single men that read this post are secretly praying: God, when are you going to bless me with a great, loving, caring, and challenging wife like her? 😀 I shall be corrected if am wrong.

    I enjoy your posts! Always adventure-filled and inspiring!

    Happy anniversary!



  4. I did something similar for my husband on his birthday. His first birthday we ever spent together. Stupid idea, because it can’t really be topped. So the next year I gave him socks and every year since have tried to top socks rather than a flight experience 🙂


      • She wrote exactly what I was thinking! How do you top that. It would be a gift I’d love to get, but am praying I never get! LOL I’m having anxiety just thinking about it. My hats off to you. Although my new year’s resolution is to be more adventurous which up until this point has been like…a pair of socks. 😉


  5. My best friend would love this idea. Thanks for suggesting something out of the ordinary. I will try to come up with something for our 10th this summer. Great shots by the way; secondary to none! Who took the cockpit photos?


  6. Excellent present – well chosen! To be honest, also one of my ultimate dreams – next to driving a Porsche 956 on the North loop track of the Nürburgring (Germany). Congratulations with your first anniversary!


  7. You never cease to amaze me! Since I don’t have a someone special, this would be a great gift for myself to celebrate my birthday. I am always on the search for something new and wonderful to kick up my heels. High five to you Lesley, and congrats on the 1st anniversary of a love filled life.


  8. First of all, that is just AWESOME! Second of all… what a thoughtful and loving gift, and for a 1st anniversary, too? Well done! 😀


      • I wished that I could have been his wingman during this flight and it would have been the ultimate journey for me as well. At 7.5 months pregnant, however, I was happy just to see the smile on his face and enjoy the journey through his videos 🙂


  9. Although it certainly sounds like an awesome experience my husband and I are not friends of spending a lot of money on gifts to each other. If we do spend more money then it’s on something we do together as a couple or as a family. I believe in experiences and gifts that are literally (almost) priceless.


    • Darren and I spend most of our days thinking of beautiful, romantic things that we can do together and ways to celebrate our love on a daily basis without spending a cent. We often take daily walks along the beach, share cute notes and emails with each other, celebrate our time together, and pay attention to the little things that make a huge difference. Just a few days ago, Darren left notes around the house for me as a reminder of our love together. Sometimes, though, we like to experience the adventurous side of things and if I can fulfill a lifelong dream of his, there is no price limit for something so unique.


  10. Just wanted to add – I think that people today are so used to all experiences being so intense that they become addicted to these intense feelings and numb to the small things in life. They need need more and more excitement and entertainment.
    And that although the world is so full of wonders if you stop and take time to really look. After all – the things you are so thankful for that your husband gave you – I’m sure they didn’t cost a cent, did they?


    • Darren and I found a balance of adventure, excitement, and entertainment in our lives while cherishing the daily events as well. Everyone expects something different out of life. We’ve found extreme happiness every second since we’ve been together and it works for us. From our careers, eating habits, daily routine, and spontaneity, we’ve learned to enjoy every minute of it. I think that from the extreme experiences to watching tv together we’ve created our perfect life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  11. I can’t believe this, I saw it on a tv program over here about 3 days ago!! I personally can’t think of anything I would ‘dislike’ more, but I think you two are just amazing, the perfect gift!!! Well done for coming up with such a unique experience!


    • Flying everything has been the greatest journey for both Darren and I over the last year. We’ve flown in helicopters, airplanes, parachutes, and gliders, and we piloted airplanes and helicopters ourselves. This was the next progression 🙂

      The smile on his face during the entire morning proved that it was well worth it.


  12. Wow! you are a pretty good wife! Besides the last year’s present (when I went ahead and planned a C-section a day after our anniversary) my presents usually include arranging a babysitter for the evening 😉


  13. What an adventure! I thought my wife and I had a cool 2nd Anniversary by going to the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada to see burned up stuff. Now I’ll have to think really hard for year three. 🙂


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