Yes, it’s true, the U.S. Air Force traded an F-15 fighter jet for a Ferrari Testarossa. Here’s how it all went down:
Ferrari Club membership has its perks, but this particular situation was beyond the usual. An email exchange between a doctor and a fellow member, who also happened to be the former Secretary of the Air Force, rendered up an interesting trade: a morning joyride in an F-15 for an afternoon joyride in a Testarossa.
Seems like a no-brainer trade, right?
It was a lifelong dream for Dr. Al Passori to ride along in the Air Force’s proven tactical strike vessel since he’s been a lifelong amateur aviator. His first solo flight was at age 16 and he even received his pilot’s license before his driver’s license. As close as he was to his Ferrari, he could part with the keys for this opportunity.
Flight crew: “Does it have a Hemi in it?”
Dr. Al was paired with a fighter jockey who went by the call sign, “Vic.” A captain, Vic was an Air Force Academy graduate and one of the best in his class. He would be conducting flight operations on the second day with Al in the weapons systems officer’s chair, which meant Al had a full day of orientation and training on the first day.
The morning began with a preflight physical. The flight would be conducted below 18,000 feet, so the flight surgeon waived hyperbaric chamber training. Then came flight suit fitting, Nomex fire retardant gloves, helmet, oxygen mask, survival gear, and most importantly, the G-suit—necessary to keep one from blacking out in high G-force maneuvers—always a plus!
Emergency operations training filled the remainder of the first day. In short, Dr. Al learned all the bad things that could happen, and the difference between “Egress! Egress! Egress!” (for ground-related incidents) and “Bail Out! Bail Out! Bail Out!” (for when things go rapidly south in the air). Further training included untangling a fouled chute, landing without serious injury, landing in trees, landing in power lines, fire in the cockpit, etc. Friends and family jokingly suggested that Al eat some bananas because they taste good going down, and coming back up.
On the second day at 7 a.m., Al arrived at Langley Air Force Base with Metallica’s version of “Ironman” blaring. It helped ease the anxiety carried over from day one’s training, apparently. Anyway, “Vic” thoroughly ran through the specifics of flight operations. Joint Base Andrews would be the alternate landing zone. Flight operations would be conducted below 18,000 feet off the coast of Nags Head and Cape Hatteras, NC. After a quick weather check, it was off to the tarmac to strap in.
Vic pre-flight checked the F-15. Flight controls were set, oxygen and avionics were checked, and the fighter jet began to rumble down the runway. And that’s when Al got a taste of what real acceleration felt like. As the dual-engine aircraft rocketed down the runway for takeoff, Dr. Al’s body pushed firmly back into the seat. Within seconds he was airborne as the jet rotated and climbed skyward. At 17,000 feet, over the area of operation, Vic demonstrated the flight characteristics of the extremely agile jet. Much like a Ferrari, it was both responsive and easy to control.
If only our garage looked like this.
High-G maneuvers were on the agenda. A few tight accelerated turns resulted in a relatively modest 3g load. Al’s pressure suit inflated and he grunted several times, as instructed, to keep the blood from rushing to his feet and blacking out. Warm-ups complete, the duo hit 6 Gs. Al felt light headed and very queasy. Vic handed an airsickness bag back to him, just in case. Concerned he might find out bananas taste good coming back up, Al cracked the intercom with, “I think 6 Gs are sufficient. I don’t need to experience 9 Gs.”
Vic then formed up with two other aircraft at a separation distance of what seemed to be 10 – 15 feet and skillfully flew below, above, and beside the other F-15s at more than 325 knots (374 mph). After an hour of flight, fuel was getting low and it was time to head back. They passed Kitty Hawk at 1,500 feet, paying homage to the Wright brothers. Vic ascended to 3,500 feet, touching the clouds one more time, before performing a smooth textbook landing.
His dream complete, Dr. Al emerged smiling from the cockpit—with empty barf bags and a Ferrari key. It was time to uphold his end of the bargain. The Air Force would get their Ferrari time!
He tossed the key to Vic.
The Testarossa was on the tarmac, just a few feet away.
And then it was gone, in a 12 cylinder roar.
Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in November 2016. It has been edited to compy with Auto Mentality’s updated editorial standards.