Would you like to fly upside down?
Blank stares and belching were the only possibilities when it was over. Any movement, even raising my head to speak, was dangerous.
The climbing and diving at 220 mph. Slaloming the tips of cactus and mesquite trees. Corkscrewing and banking at 6Gs. And flying upside down and end-over-end (more on that later) barely lasted five minutes. Yet it seemed to have the total effect of a month-long flu.
For an hour after the joyride over Eloy, Arizona, ended, I sat on a folding chair. I was inside Kirby Chambliss' home hangar. I felt as if the blood had drained from my body. And that my internal organs had swapped places. My stomach was somehow bloated and twisted in knots at the same time.
"I try to give people an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives," Chambliss said.
The mission was a success. Though it came with a queasy warning for me.
Chambliss? He treated it as if we were puttering around in a paddleboat.
Not much surprise there.
He has been around planes all his life. His father was a pilot. The two of them built their own plane from scratch when he was 13.
At 24, Chambliss became the youngest commercial pilot at Southwest Airlines. He already had honed his aerobatic skills by the time he made captain at 28.
Practicing three times a day, seven days a week, Chambliss turned himself into a five-time U.S. national aerobatics champion. He also was one of the founding pilots in the Red Bull Air Races. The series began in 2003. He is still racing in the series.
Our aircraft hurtled end over end like a paper plane with a bent nose. At the same time, Chambliss spoke with the calmness of an airline pilot pointing out the Grand Canyon 37,000 feet below.
"We are going to go on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," he said.
Friends asked why I was dumb enough to volunteer for such a crazy ride. I was wondering the same thing after watching Chambliss' plane roar over the house upside down.
Death was not what had me worried. Chambliss is one of the world's best at twisting airplanes at crazy angles.
The concern was for my stomach. Something about intentionally making myself sick did not, uh, sit well.
"Do not worry. You will be fine," Chambliss said. "We will go up and do a few things, see how you do."
The first thing he did was turn the plane upside down. Not after gaining some altitude. That was within a second of becoming airborne.
Our minds tell us the sky should be up, the ground down. Watching the green-and-brown desert blur over our heads and blue sky float below us (or was it above?) made about as much sense as a flying hippopotamus.
From there, we climbed. Then we dove, at over 200 miles per hour, toward three houses on Chambliss' Flying Crown Ranch. Instead of disintegrating, we started slaloming the houses to mimic what Chambliss does during races.
After going upside down again and another slalom round, I felt surprisingly good. Maybe this would not be so bad.
Turns out, Chambliss had the airplane on the easy setting. The spin cycle was about to begin.
Rocketing past his house, Chambliss took the plane into a 6G turn, on a 270-degree arc. It made me feel like a squished tater tot squeezing through a wormhole.
My stomach: "You have got my attention now."
I lied and told Chambliss I was doing OK.
He followed with what felt like a fiery gymnastics combo. It was an upside-down twist, front flip with a flat spin.
My lunch was ready to dismount.
"I think I am done," I said. I was tapping out after 5 minutes, 5 seconds of flying.
"OK. We will head down," he said.
Just not to the ground.
Because the brakes were hot, we touched down and took off twice so he could fly around to cool them off.
"Better than ending up off the end of the runway into the trees," he said.
I was not so sure.
Thankfully, on the third approach, we landed. My stomach and head did not seem to believe it. They felt as if we were still twirling through the sky.
Chambliss was right. It was an experience I will never forget. For reasons good and bad.