Flight school: Local educator flies with Blue Angels

Carmel Valley resident Bill Miller recently had the “beyond bucket list” experience of flying with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels on Sept. 20. Miller was one of just three San Diego civilians selected to take a ride in the iconic blue and gold F/A 18 Hornet, in advance of the six-jet team’s performance at the MCAS Miramar Airshow.

Miller is the vice principal of Patrick Henry High School, which has a very strong Navy Junior ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program. Over the summer, some Navy officers were on campus to recognize the program and invited staff to their training facility in Illinois. The officers made the offer to have the Blue Angels pilots come during the school year to do a presentation — they then floated the idea of someone going up in the air with the Blue Angels and Miller was a willing candidate.

For the hundreds who applied for the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels, the Navy was looking for someone who plays an important role in their community. A UC San Diego graduate, Miller has been in education for 24 years in the Allied Gardens/Del Cerro neighborhood of San Diego, teaching at Lewis Middle School before coming to Patrick Henry. In the Carmel Valley community, he is involved in Dads’ Clubs at his children’s schools, Solana Pacific and Solana Highlands Elementary, and he was also the 2016-17 president of Solana Beach Little League as well as a coach of his son’s team.

Miller’s father is also a former Marine.

In addition to community contributions, the candidate also had to be physically cleared by a physician and it was recommended that they could run two miles without a problem and swim 100 yards.

“I checked off all those boxes,” Miller said, noting that he was also told to be well-hydrated, get a good night sleep and eat light — all necessary to be able to withstand high levels of G Force, the equivalent of the force of gravity multiplied.

On a fairly cloudy Sept. 20 morning, Navy Lt. Brandon Hempler started Miller off with the “easy stuff.” They took off with an accelerated ascent — only 50 feet above the runway they did a straight climb, about 5.6 Gs — traveling up to 10,000 feet in 20 to 30 seconds.

They then did some of the types of maneuvers done in the Airshow, including flying upside down, barrel rolls and doing big looping turns with four jets in formation, the wings of the other planes just 18 inches away.

Hempler offered Miller the opportunity to do one more thing — a “max G turn,” at about 7.5 Gs. Miller said “Let’s give it a shot.” He remembers seeing 7.1 Gs and the next thing he recalled was Hempler asking: “Bill? You good back there?” — he had gone dark for about two to three seconds.

For the 45 minutes of flight time, Miller said Hempler was a perfect host pilot.

“He was concerned with making sure I was having a good time, he wasn’t over-exerting me, he was very polite and professional and wanted me to enjoy myself and come away with a positive experience,” said Miller, quickly adding: “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

After a fast landing, Miller’s family was waiting for him back on solid ground — his father, his mother and father-in-law, son, wife and a co-worker. Miller said his son Brendon was beaming and remarked excitedly: “You were going so fast!”

Besides the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a framed commemorative photo, Miller said he came away with a huge sense of patriotic pride.

“The purpose was to spark good in the community and talk about the honor, courage and commitment of all those who serve in the Armed Forces and to be grateful for all they have done for us,” Miller said. “After doing this, I can take that message and work at being better at whatever I do, be it as vice principal, dad, husband or coach. It’s about wanting to do the best you can at whatever it is you do.”