Harley Hall II learned a valuable lesson last week: when the leader of the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron invites you on a flight, you can’t say no.
“I got a phone call from the current leader of the Blue Angels letting me know that they were gonna give me a ride in the airplane, which obviously was a big surprise,” Hall said. “I thought my wife was talking to a salesman.”
Friday, Hall took part in a 45-minute flight with the Blue Angels, in honor of his father, Harley H. Hall, a Navy pilot from Vancouver who once led the flight group before disappearing in combat at the end of the Vietnam War 50 years ago.
“They call flying these planes riding the dragon. I thought that was a perfect description,” Hall said.
A week before the flight, Hall — who works as the executive chef of catering and concessions at the University of California Santa Barbara — received word that the Blue Angels were going to honor his father at their Naval Base Ventura County Air Show at Point Mugu, Calif., only 45 minutes from Hall’s home.
His father was born in Vancouver and attended Evergreen High School and Clark College in the 1950s. After college, he became a Navy pilot, and led the Blue Angels for two years before joining the Vietnam War efforts.
“My brother was commander of the Blue Angels, 1970 to 71, and on his third tour was the last Navy pilot shot down in Vietnam,” the elder Hall’s sister, Gwen Hall Davis, said.
In 1973, during an air strike against enemy supply craft, Hall’s F-4J Phantom II was shot down, and his whereabouts were never confirmed, according to a 2013 Columbian article.
“Hall is the last American to be designated as a prisoner of war in Vietnam,” the article states. “In February 1980, federal officials declared that Hall was ‘presumed killed in action.’ ”
Fifty years after his disappearance, on the same year as Harley Hall II’s 50th birthday, the Blue Angels honored the late commander by inviting Hall to accept a plaque and join the group on a flight in an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet with a bright label of “VIP Harley Hall II.”
“The biggest thing I took away was the G-forces are just beyond any explanation of what anybody would think it’s gonna be like,” Hall said. “It was physically one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.”
For the next 45 minutes, Hall and the pilot rolled, twisted and turned in the air, with Hall’s family watching below. Hall said the jet neared 800 mph and reached a maximum acceleration of 7.5 G-forces.
“When I came out of the airplane, I was soaking wet underneath the flight suit from all the work you have to do to combat the forces,” Hall said. “My main goal was to not throw up and not pass out, I guess to keep the image of the genes in high standards, but somehow I was able to do it.”
In 2004, the elder Hall received the Clark College Outstanding Alumni Award for his military contributions. The HH Hall Building in northeast Vancouver is named after Hall.