The small plane had climbed high above the Columbia River when it appeared to stop in mid-air.
Its nose -- headed straight for the cloudless sky a moment ago -- slowly dropped. Then the plane screamed downward, wisps of white smoke trailing from its wings.
As the Ringold area rushed toward the cockpit, Lt. Col. John Klatt swept the single-engine projectile into a controlled spin, pulled up and flattened the plane's path.
"OK, now we're going to do a 'Clear to roll,' then we'll do a 'level' and then we'll straighten out toward the river," he calmly radioed his flying colleague.
Never miss a local story.
Tumbling several hundred feet only to end up with his plane's belly facing the sky is just another day at work for Klatt.
Klatt is a pilot for the Air National Guard and is one of the star attractions of this weekend's "Over the River" air show. In the midday hours from Friday through Sunday, helicopters, World War II-era bombers and modern fighter jets will take to the skies above the Tri-Cities.
The air component of the Water Follies is expanded in part because the Air National Guard is a sponsor of the hydroplane racing series this year.
And for the second year running, it will feature Klatt performing aerobatic stunts in his Staudacher S-300D plane.
Klatt will make the small 350-horsepower flying machine tumble, fly backward and speed 5 feet above the river's surface upside down during this weekend's performances, he said.
He gave the Herald a preview Thursday of what crowds can expect.
With fellow pilot Bill Kerns in the Staudacher virtually glued to his tail, Klatt flipped, twisted and dove through the skies above West Pasco and Hanford in an Extra 300L. He performed such air show classics as the barrel roll, the snap roll and the hammerhead stall.
Klatt flew his first plane at age 17. He has been a modern-day barnstormer for 10 years.
But his main objective isn't to wow people -- it's to represent the 107,000 men and women of the Air National Guard, he said.
Klatt has spent 21 years in the Guard. His real job is to fly F-16 Fighting Falcon jets for his country.
He flew three tours in Iraq -- in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
He takes flying very seriously, no matter if he's putting a prop plane through its paces or navigating a $3 million military jet.
"But at the end of the day, an air show is about entertainment," Klatt said. "Flying F-16s is about service and keeping the men and women on the ground out of harm's way. It's been a real pleasure to fly that airplane as long as I did."
But the days of flying fighter jets are winding down for the 44-year-old. He now spends a lot of time traveling the country to educate young people -- which in this case includes anyone between 17 and 39 -- about the opportunities the Air National Guard offers for college and careers.
And a sure way to get young people's attention is to hurl a plane through the air in daredevil fashion.
The maneuvers Klatt performs still keep him on his toes, even after flying them for years. For starters, there's the strain of the gravitational forces on his body.
A human sitting on a park bench experiences a g-force of 1 -- simple gravitational pull that keeps him from floating.
On Thursday, Klatt put his plane into an outside loop -- imagine a string tied to the belly of the plane and spun around a giant's finger. It produced a force of negative 2-g on this body.
"You feel your head wants to come off and it's pushing everything inside you toward the top of your body," he said.
During the air show, he will subject himself to forces of 6- or 7-gs, he said.
Klatt still experiments with new maneuvers, though not during air shows, of course.
"Until you've done something 500 times you don't put it close to the ground," he said. "When you know exactly how (the plane) is going to tumble and how it's going to exit at which air speed, then you can bring it into your air show routine."
Klatt said seeing the earth recede below him is still as exhilarating for him as it was during his first flight.
"I still get nervous," he said. "I still have a lot of respect for flying."