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. Happy Anniversary!!! What an awesome gift! I love the way you approach life with extreme zest. 🙂
    My husband has always dreamed of flying a plane. I offered to give him flying lessons years ago as a gift…but he’s had several heart attacks and is, perhaps, hesitant to do it…should I arrange for flying lessons anyway? What do you think?


    • That’s a call only you and your husband can make. I enjoyed the helicopter flight more than the airplane flight but everyone looks at it differently. The instructor choice can make all the difference too.

      Good luck with your choice and I wish you and your husband many years of happiness and adventure.



  2. Congratulations on your first wedding anniversary! Outstanding hubby gift! It was more than worth that price tag to see his happy face and hear his exultation, I am sure! This reminds of when a friend and I were flying a two-seater glider plane and play-acted a dog fight with a kettle of buzzards!


  3. I’m intending to take my significant other for a nice walk followed by a refreshing cup of tea and a scone. I don’t like to get her too excited. If we really want to go for it , I’ll probably take her to the council dump soon.


  4. Wow! I will NOT show this to my hubby–he would be so envious, lol. He’s got a private licence but hasn’t flown in a while. And, man you have an adventurous life!! I climbed two mountains when I was a teen, but that seems dwarfed by the adventures you have. My adventures now might not be jumping from amazing heights, but I do love the little adventures with my munchkins.


  5. OOwww.. this is awesome!!! Definitely, this experience is listed on my bucket list already…well not just for Hubs since being being in the military, this thing is common to him but.. him to do it with me would be great! aw.. i can;t wait!


  6. After 22 years in the Air Force working and sitting in a lot of aircraft I can tell you with certainty you are absolutely correct. Having your child with you on the same date next year will top this easily.

    Still pretty cool though. Pictures are great.


  7. Have you tried it yourself? I would love to, but you can’t do it in South Africa and it is SO expensive to go elsewhere. A friend of mine did it in Russia and loved it.


  8. This goes right at the top of the ‘Things to do on the USA tour’ list!
    Must say, the pictures are amazing. As an airplane junkie myself, I can imagine how elated Darren must have been after his stint in the cockpit :). His feelings seem to ooze out of your writing. Perfect title to the blog post, and a terrific anniversary gift!


  9. sounds amazing Lesley – fortunately (for our bank balance) that wouldn’t appeal to my husband – when we were on the adults v. children team at the local laser quest place, he was the only one who ended up with negative points! Still, he would like a chance to drive the Nürburgring Nordstreife and not just watch 8o)


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