After the low level mach run we did a rapid climb to... well I wish I had checked our altimeter. My guess is that we hit close to 50K since that is the published ceiling of the craft. I didn't see the altimeter because I was awed by the deep color of the sky. The blue had become almost black and with little imagination I could see the earth curve away. I knew we were low on fuel and this was a good time for an altitude run as being lighter, getting high is easy.
The large photo below shows the dark sky above and is a view looking to the south from high above Edwards. El Mirage dry lake is visible as is the Cajon Pass with the San Bernardino Mountains to its left and Mount Baldy (San Gabriel's) to the right.
Mark knew I had been playing around with a shuttle approach simulator on my computer so the altitude was a great way to start a simulated approach. Basically we did one large right 360 aircraft type approach from the top of our climb gradually slowing to about 225 knots as we descended to the thicker air near the deck. Mark said the F18 is not the best craft to simulate the shuttle landing as the shuttle usually approaches closer to 300 knots but with some maneuvering of the flaps and gear, the 225 knots he managed to achieve came close enough for me.
I knew going into the flight, that no matter what we did I would find with hindsight something I would have rather done. My thought was to get some hands on to see how it handled but by letting Mark do 75% of the flight I would see more of what the craft was capable of. This we did and I have found that I was wrong. There is nothing I would have rather done.
The flight lasted over 1.25 hours. During several instances in the flight, I thought of the fellow hang glider pilots I've known over the years and a recurring thought was that I should have had a button to press that could beam me out and beam another hang diver in so that more of us could share in such an incredible flying machine.