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IF YOU'RE UP TO IT, ONTARIO FLIERS OFFER AERIAL RIDE OF YOUR LIFE

In a heartbeat, the bright red aircraft snaps from straight up to straight down, the whirling disk of the propeller aimed straight at the easily counted furrows in a Canadian farm field a few hundred feet away.

"And, rolling out," crackles the voice of newly retired Canadian Forces pilot Paul "Pitch" Molnar over the helmet intercom as the wings whip around and a tilted horizon begins to slide across the cockpit canopy.

Tail slides, hammerhead stalls and even the chatter of machine guns have punctured the skies over Canada's Niagara Peninsula this fall, as a new Niagara Regional Airport company brings dogfighting and aerobatics within the reach of anyone who can fund a wish to fly with the top guns.

Air Combat Canada this week added a volley of corporate mailings to its program, seeking Buffalo companies willing to put their people into the cockpit for some team-building aerial competition tournaments. But the skies also are open to anyone whose stomach can handle a barrel roll, loop or snap turn in the 22-foot, 300-horsepower airplanes with the tiger shark paint jobs on the nose.

"We're a dogfighting company," Molnar said. "But regardless of the dogfighting or whatever we do, we want people to have a huge smile on their faces."

The smile can get a bit strained, as G-forces try to pool your blood in your feet while the tiny -- but agile -- two-seat aircraft snarls through combat a few thousand feet over southern Ontario.

Tiny motions on the control stick put the firm's Extra 300L aerobatic-rated aircraft through sharp maneuvers, the maple leaf-emblazoned wings biting through cold wintry air. A squeeze on the trigger sends an invisible, eye-safe laser beam knifing from a wingtip, toward sensors mounted on the "bogey" trying equally hard to slip into position to record a kill.

The goal is to get from the radioed call of "fight's on" to a hit that will trigger a smoke canister in the other plane, in two minutes or less. The laser can score from 1,500 feet, but most successful shots -- including a burst of recorded machine gun chatter in helmet headsets -- are made from 700 to 900 feet away.

The carnage continues year-round.

"We're happy with the weather," Molnar radios from the rear seat. "This is the best weather in Ontario, for doing what we do."

Training, in the form of an hour-long preflight briefing and separate strategy sessions with each team of client and professional pilot, covers both flight skills and the basic dogfighting maneuvers. The pilots enforce flight safety rules.

"We deal with people all the time who have never flown before," said Paul Ransford, who goes by the call sign "BJ."

For those unsure whether their stomach can keep up with their desires in the upside-down weightless at the top of a loop, the firm advises a preliminary trip to a small local air park for a test trip with an air service pilot.

That's a relatively inexpensive way to determine whether to invest up to $700 U.S. or $945 Canadian -- the most expensive options -- in a half day of briefings and combat or aerobatics, Ransford said.

"If you like that, you're going to just get blown away when you visit us," he added -- speaking figuratively.

Air Combat Canada set up in May and started its first client flights in June. Its two main pilots, as well as three reserves, have military experience. Both Ransford and Molnar are former CF-18 Hornet pilots certified Fighter Weapons Instructors, with Ransford a winner of the "Top Gun Trophy" and top combat certifications. Molnar flew missions during Desert Storm.

"I left the military four months ago to start this, and BJ was flying with the airlines until July," Molnar said.

Tail slides -- climbing straight up, cutting power and then dropping backwards through the smoke trail until flipping the aircraft into a power dive -- are frowned upon by both the airlines and the F-18 squadrons. Not here.

Aerobatics is offered as an alternative to the dogfighting option, with the pros coaching the clients through 75 to 80 percent of the flying. Aerobatics are done in an imaginary "box" near the airfield, while the approved dogfighting zone is 25 miles farther southwest over the rural community of Cayuga.

"We take it very slowly, a building block approach," Molnar said.

The firm will take pilots as young as 12, if they're mature enough. So far, the oldest "fighter pilot" was 76.

Wannabe fighter pilots tend to get over their stiffness with the aircraft in a hurry, Molnar said.

"They may start out a little less aggressive," he added, as Combat 01 Flight rolled to a stop on the runway. "But as people get used to them, the fangs come out and they go nuts."

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