Mile-High Dogfight: Real Sweat, Fake Weapons
Golf too slow? These weekend warriors roar through the sky searching for the next ''kill.''
Hitman screamed across an azure sky at 5,000 feet in hot pursuit of Mack Attack, pulling some serious Gs as he shot up out of an inverted roll and dive. Although the wings of his Marchetti SF-260 fighter plane started to vibrate and his vision began to blur, he kept pulling the nose of the plane up even as he sunk further into his seat. Hitman didn't want to be killed.
Drenched in sweat, his nervous system in overdrive, Hitman pushed out deep grunts of breath in an attempt to keep oxygen flowing to his brain. Hoping for a clear shot at his prey, he dropped the nose of his plane down, then rose quickly, flipping to the side. Mack Attack mirrored the move, known as a Low Yo-Yo. For 10 minutes, the duo's dogfight resembled an aerial dance.
Then Mack Attack made a mistake, losing sight of Hitman, who maneuvered behind him and pulled his trigger. "When I saw the smoke coming from the back of his plane, it was a really cool feeling," says Hitman, recalling his victory roll.
On the ground, Hitman is Hoyt H. Harper, II, a 53-year-old brand manager for Starwood Resorts, focused on the chain's Sheraton hotels. Ultimately, Harper is responsible for the music you hear in a Sheraton lobby and the size, shape and smell of the soap in each room.
Mack Attack is Peter Mack, a Starwood coworker some 20 years younger than Harper (he refuses to divulge his actual age) who is in charge of Starwood's marketing partnerships. On most days, the two men sit at desks or give Powerpoint presentations in meetings at the company's office in White Plains, N.Y. When it comes to leisure activities, coworkers hit the links for a game of golf or head out to the water for a day of fishing. Not Harper and Mack. These guys prefer to live out their Walter Mitty fantasies by climbing into actual fighter planes and participating in adrenaline-pumped dogfights a mile above the earth.
"It's exhilarating, competitive and physically challenging," says Harper. "Everything about it is exciting."
Mack adds: "You get such a rush from the speed and G-forces, and it doesn't wear off for months afterward."
The purveyor of these fantasies is Air Combat USA, a civilian dogfighting school based in Fullerton, Calif. The company has taken up 40,000 customers since its founding in 1988, operating an aerial circus that travels to 30 mostly smaller and mid-sized airports.
"This. Sounds. So. Freaking. Awesome!!"