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Retired airman’s business sends average Joes flying high over Henderson

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Christopher DeVargas

Richard “Tex” Coe, president of Air Combat Ace, explains the concept behind his company on Feb. 10, 2011.

Air Combat Ace

Air Combat Ace is a new Henderson business that allows participants to fly a plane with a trained fighter pilot. Watch Las Vegas Sun's Rich Coleman try out Las Vegas' latest attraction.

Las Vegas Weekly

Air Combat Ace

The Extra330LC aerobatic airplane, used by Air Combat Ace, sits on the tarmac before flight time Feb. 10, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Map of Henderson Executive Airport

Henderson Executive Airport

3500 Executive Terminal Dr, Henderson

Beyond the Sun

When Richard Coe retired from the Air Force in 2008, he wasn’t quite sure how he would re-assimilate into civilian life.

After all, being grounded after flying F-16 fighter jets for more than a decade leaves one with some sea, um, air legs.

“When I was in the military, it was the best experience, getting to travel around the world and fly planes,” said Coe, who goes by the call name “Tex." He said he thought to himself, “If only I could bottle this experience up…”

The former Nellis airman founded Monarch Sky Flight School in 2008, starting out with one flying instructor -- himself -- and one plane at Henderson Executive Airport.

Now, Coe’s company, which includes aviation support company Mojave Aviation, boasts 50 employees and 25 aircraft.

Although flying lessons got Coe back into the air, flight school never reached the rush and high of flying a fighter plane, he said.

Enter Air Combat Ace: Las Vegas’ latest attraction that lets adrenaline junkies fly a fighter plane -- an Extra 330LC that can pull plus or minus 10 Gs -- under the supervision of an accompanying fighter pilot.

In addition to the “Top Gun” experience, which costs about $500, riders can also participate in the “Air Combat” adventure: aerial dog fighting with another fighter plane for about $1,800 per person.

Coe, 36, likens Air Combat Ace to “jousting for the 21st century,” but in reality, it will be more like playing laser tag in the sky. The company is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration to place low-energy lasers in the planes. When the lasers “hit,” smoke will emit from the rear of the plane.

And with four small cameras attached in the planes’ interior and exterior, the high-flying experience is recorded for posterity.

“It’s so wild,” said Coe’s business partner and investor, Gareth Long. “It’s every boy’s dream to be a fighter pilot after watching 'Top Gun.' This enables you to fulfill your childhood dream without being in the military.”

Long, a self-proclaimed “avid pilot” with 350 hours behind the joystick, is a bit of an entrepreneur himself. The British transplant founded Amibug Holdings, LLC, last year to manage his slew of business investments: check validation company Altcharge, restaurants Nu Sanctuary Lounge and Laziza Lounge, and now Air Combat Ace.

Long’s latest venture marries the 31-year-old’s passion for the sky with his business acumen, he said.

Air Combat Ace is not just about the flight experience. Hanger B100 at Henderson Executive Airport will house a small flight museum and a full bar, where riders can mingle with fighter pilots and watch a replay of their sky-high joust.

“You come down, the testosterone is starting to come down a few notches and then you get to enjoy the ambiance in the hanger,” Coe said. “But start to finish, my goal is for the person who does either of the two programs to come back and say it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever done in their life.”

For the more faint of heart, Air Combat Ace’s sister company, Vegas 500, offers two luxury flight experiences. For between $119 and $439, interested parties can fly in one of two Cessna Grand Caravan planes for a dinner flight above the Strip or a tour of the Grand Canyon.

“They have a nicer interior than a G6 jet, with club-style seating, fold-out tables, DVD screen systems… it’s got a beautiful interior,” Long said. “We try to create a better experience for the customer (than other touring companies).”

For Coe, launching his companies in the heart of the Great Recession wasn't an easy feat, he said.

“It was a challenging environment. It’s been such hard work to get your vision and dreams to fruition,” he said. “But this is a huge milestone.

“If you have a vision and you’re persuasive enough, you can put your mind to anything and be successful.”

Air Combat Ace is taking reservations.

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