Kolpack: When it comes to a team, Blue Angels and Cobbers have a lot in common

A ride over eastern North Dakota on an F/A-18 Super Hornet an intense experience in gravitational force.


The morning started with Dick Walstad, the co-chairman of the Fargo AirSho, walking into Hangar 19 on the south end of Hector International Airport, saying with a smirk that the Blue Angels were late getting into Fargo the day before because of some sort of mechanical problem. That was the exact sarcastic cue that Kyle Bakken seemed to be looking for, with the Concordia College defensive coordinator turning to his head coach and giving a little fist pump.

A little more fear of god into his head coach, Terry Horan, never hurts.

A few hours later, Horan emerged from Ltd. Julius Bratton’s Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet jet with the look of a guy that just won a national title. In the world of life experiences, it was a national title.


Ltd. Julius Bratton and his Blue Angels F/A-18 Super Hornet prepare to take off with Forum sportswriter Jeff Kolpack in the rear seat. Special to The Forum.

Forty-five minutes in the backseat of Bratton’s plane over the eastern half of North Dakota will do that. The number that will stick out forever to me: 7.6.

As in 7.6 Gs, the only point in the flight where I questioned if passing out was just around the corner. Thankfully, we pulled out of the roll, came back to a more normal G speed and life moved on to the next maneuver.

When it comes to a team, Horan and Bratton have a lot in common. Horan is in charge of over 100 players with the ultimate goal of winning on Saturdays. Bratton is part of a 150-member Blue Angels team with the ultimate goal of winning every show. His crew chief, Jordan Walls, did all the pre-work like prepping us on how to properly eject just in case, setting the stage for Bratton to drive his vehicle.

“This team is phenomenal,” Bratton said. “I’m just one person on a 150-person team.”

Another member is Brian Kesselring, the Fargo South and Concordia graduate who is the commander of the squadron that will be performing this weekend at the AirSho. Kesselring is being inducted into the South Hall of Fame on Friday. The precision at which the Angels operate in the sky is out-of-this-world expert.

“My goodness,” Horan said. “Trying to get 11 young men on the same page is one thing but to have that type of precision, that is teamwork at its best.”

Concordia starts fall camp in August after not playing last year because of the pandemic. Same for the Angels, who didn’t do shows last year but have around 30 scheduled this year. After Fargo, they head to Alaska and then back to Ypsilanti, Mich.


Wednesday was what Bratton called the mini-team version of his job. He does the coordination to make sure all the details are in order by the time Kesselring’s crew bolts into Fargo.

About that 7.6G experience. What was that?

“We were in the run portion where we do a little more dynamic flying,” Bratton said. “We intensify the G. We got just below the speed of sound, around 600 knots, about .93 indicated Mach, and from there it’s a full max performance. Pull the stick in the lot until we get pure vertical, 90 degrees nose up, and once we get pure vertical, I’ll go max stick deflection to the left and start doing some spirals in the vertical until 11,000 feet. And then we’ll do another pull, this time about 6 Gs to level off. And I'll say, hey, look where we just came from, look at those spirals in the sky. And if you’re still awake, you get to see that. If not, I’ll talk to you when you are awake.”

It was at that point where my vision narrowed. The intensity was off the charts. To fight it, riders are taught to tighten the legs, force the abdomen back into the chair, keep the head up and breathe by using the “hook” technique. It’s the word you say to tighten the chin with a long emphasis on the “K” to breathe.

Gravitational force is defined as the force that pulls or attracts all physical objects toward the center of the planet. It didn’t take long to figure out this flight was no Delta connection to Minneapolis.

“I just think of the takeoff, how many commercial flights have we all been on?” Horan said. “You look out the window with the kids and you think how fast you’re going. I can’t believe how fast we were going, and then went straight vertical. I was just like, oh my gosh.”

The pre-flight instructions were simple. Do not fly on an empty stomach, but don’t eat anything greasy, either. I was told several times to have a banana because it tastes the same on the way up as it did on the way down.

Thankfully, I never found that out. Hydration is key, both the night before and morning of, and avoid physical activity the day before because the flight is strenuous (no kidding, Sherlock).


Terry and I trusted the team.

Related Topics: EVENTS
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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