Larkin, Abdelkader earn their wings in test flight

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Belleville — Justin Abdelkader wanted to be a jet fighter pilot when he was a youngster, racing the sky in breathtaking speed.

Abdelkader got a taste of what it would be like Thursday at Willow Run Airport.

Abdelkader and teammate Dylan Larkin flew with the Breitling Jet Team as part of a promotion for this weekend’s Thunder Over Michigan Air Show at Willow Run.

“Absolutely it’s a rush,” Abdelkader said after the flight. “It’s real exciting, For myself, I always wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, always interested in aviation and flying jets, so any time I get an opportunity to do something like this, I jump at it.

“We had an air show in Muskegon and I would always kind of inspire me to be a jet fighter pilot. My career took a different turn but it was fun to experience that and to fly in formation, with all the jets together.”

Flying in formation, with all the intricacies involved, stood out as a highlight.

“That was probably the craziest part,” Larkin said. “You slow down, get into formation, and you come in tight real quick.”

Larkin’s pilot allowed him to take control of the plane while it executed a barrel roll (a maneuver in which the plane makes a complete rotation).

“That was pretty surprising to do, it’s not as easy as it looks,” Larkin said. “I was focused on looking down not looking at the air.

“What those guys is pretty incredible. When you bank out to the left, or to the right, you pick up some serious speed. You can definitely feel it in your stomach.”

Larkin’s housemate Luke Glendening flew with the Blue Angels in years past and advised Larkin on what to expect.

“I’m glad I ate and glad I went up,” Larkin said. “It’s a lot of fun. It wasn’t too bad.”

Abdelkader is a veteran with these flights, having also flown with the Blue Angels in the past.

That past experience came in handy Thursday, with the all the twists and turns in the air.

“We did some rolls and flipped upside down, and it wasn’t too bad,” Abdelkader said. “You just have to make sure, like I learned before, you have to breathe a certain way and a right way, and keep the blood in your head.

“This here, it gets your stomach churning a little bit and you feel lightheaded. I’m pretty good on flights, but this is a little different.”

The two hockey players came through nicely, said Kevin Walsh, event director for Thunder Over Michigan.

“They came back, had good color, a little sweaty but that’s the way you should be after doing some aerodynamics in a Czech fighter jet,” Walsh said. “It’s amazing to watch how close they (jets) actually get and it certainly shows the skill set of the pilots.”