This is a collection of my blog entries and experiences with flying, and learning to fly. Something I had been wanting to do for quite a while.
You can find all the pictures I've taken here, and read below for my experience.
Specifically, I have a page for my Trips to Oshkosh, the mecca for pilots
I had done Sky Combat Ace twice in Vegas (July 2012 and June 2013), so I thought I'd try Air Combat USA since they were coming to a local airport.
So, here's a comparison between the two.
Air Combat USA:
You can get 2 flights for $2000, which includes video (Sky Combat Ace can cost close to $2000 for one flight if you pay for adrenaline and if you pay for video which is extra)
Air Combat USA video is HD, SCA video is low res analog. Both videos are multi camera angles which are selected by the instructor. SCA does have nicer video angles though (from the tail of the plane and the outside of the wing), although those are mostly useful during acrobatics, not dogfighting, and ACU doesn't really do much acrobatics anyway.
ACU gives you video right away on an SD card. SCA needs some time to work on it and gives to you over the internet later. However, the ACU video is raw AHCD/MTS that you need to have softare to process (or a player that can read that directly). I had to re-encode the AHCD video from ACU and de-interlace it, although if you upload to youtube, it'll mostly do that for you. SCA gives you re-encoded video that is easier to play/deal with (they also add music) but you'll have to wait for it and download it over the internet (they also charge you more if you want the raw video in addition to the edited video).
ACU has a fancy visor you can actually use to target the other plane. SCA, you kind of just shoot in that direction. It still works, but no cool precise targeting like ACU.
The ACU Marchetti SF260 is slower and not as agile, but has a nice side to side seating configuration. It's probably better for non pilots actually since the instructor is next to you.
ACU offered more instruction on the art of dogfighting in their program, however they felt less organized. It was not clear what would happen before each flight, how many engagements we'd have, how many were practise, and how many were real. That was my flight though, it's probably different for each.
ACU used the time to fly to the fight location and back to allow each pilot to try formation flying. I found that both challenging and quite nice to try (not as cool as acrobatics, but definitely an interesting skill to try).
ACU travels around the US, so if you can wait for one of their dates, they're easier to get to.
Sky Combat Ace:
The Extra 300 planes they use have more power and are much more agile than the Marchetti SF260, but the instructor sits behind you. That said, while I prefer the 300 hands down, to be honest, it's a lot of plane and Gs for someone not used to flying though, so it is likely overkill for a non pilot (I did 6Gs in one of my SCA flights and got close to blackout).
The adrenaline program in the Extra 300 gives 2 practise targets, 3 engagements, and 15mn or so of cool acrobatics. There were almost no acrobatics in Air Combat USA (they focus on dogfighting).
The vegas location offered low level flight on the way back, and it was uber cool. Not as useful to a pilot as formation flying practise since you're not flying that piece, but it was just that cool.
It was shorter, but just felt more fun in the end, that said I think the fun factor will depend for each person (pilot, non pilot, how fit and how many Gs you can take, and so forth).
SCA is in Vegas only, so it's a no brainer if you're there, but if you have to fly across the country to go there, that makes them less attractive to you, unless you have other reasons to go to vegas :)
My verdict: if you'd like more flying time and engagements, Air Combat USA offers more flying time for sure. If you'd like more Adrenaline, Sky Combat Ace offers a more Gs and more adrenaline for the money. That said, travel and location are key, so Air Combat USA is likely the best choice if you're not going to Vegas, while Sky Combat Ace is the more fun choice in my opinion if you're going to Vegas.
All this being said, let's talk about the program itself: I did the 5-6H Lead-in program which consisted of 2 flights with a break in between.
We started with a class on the basics of flying and dogfighting taught by a former air force pilot:
Then we went to our planes:
They had a lot of equipment inside for video and targeting:
The formation flying was quite cool and gave for great pictures:
And all good fun comes to an end
While it's not the same on a video, in you're curious, here are three:
Nice video of a takeoff and formation flight (skip one minute, and maybe watch for one minute):
Target shooting taken from the plane's HD cameras (jump to 1:45 to see an engagement):
Dogfighting taken from google glass (jump to 7:00 for engagement and you'll see the smoke at 07:20)
And there you go, after 2 flights that were over too soon, so was the fun, and it came time to go home. I hope to do this again and get more engagements next time.