With more than 300 sunny days a year, Phoenix  is a pilot’s paradise. See what all the fuss is about while getting a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular desert scenery by taking a glider ride at Arizona Soaring (22548 N. Sailport Way, Maricopa, 520/568-2602, www.azsoaring.com ). Twenty-minute flights start at $105 and come with or without aerobatics like loops and spins.
Act out all your Top Gun fantasies at Fighter Combat International (5865 S. Sossaman Rd., Mesa, 866/359-4273, www.fightercombat.com ), where you can tempt both gravity and death by flying a plane on a “combat mission.” Even beginners learn to take the stick during in-the-air training in air-combat tactics, “smoke chases,” lead-and-follow drills, and weapons training. As they say, “only the bullets aren’t real.” Prices range from $755 for a three- to four-hour adventure to more than $4,000 for a multiday experience.
A Balloon Experience by Hot Air Expeditions (480/502-6999, www.hotairexpeditions.com ) flies its balloons about 400 feet above the desert floor, low enough to see critters like jackrabbits, roadrunners, and coyotes. But the best part might come after landing: A red-carpet welcome that includes either a champagne breakfast or full dinner catered by award-winning Arizona chef Vincent Gerithault’s restaurant, Vincent’s, awaits. The company is FAA-certified and offers free hotel transfers. The three-hour trips cost about $175.
Aerogelic Ballooning (866/353-8329, www.aerogelicballooning.com ) focuses on small balloons that hold two, four, or six people for flights over the Sonoran Desert outside of Phoenix , or other, more unusual flight paths. “Dawn patrol” flights start half an hour before sunrise to show the city’s lights as they wink out for the day, while the White Mountains flight soars over the high mountains northeast of Phoenix and one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the nation. Packages range $169–315.