Airplanes, Motorcycles and "S" Curves

While I still favor our BMW 1100 RT, a.k.a. The Mistress, I get curious about other forms of mechanical mobility. For years a friend of mine, who thinks I’m crazy for getting on the back of a motorcycle, has been asking me to experience the absolutely safe and sane world of aerobatic flying. We both eye each other with a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to defining safe. For example, I wouldn’t have put me in charge of flying the Bellanca Decathlon within the first 15 minutes of flight. But Michael Way out at Sundance Airpark in Piedmont is a man who obviously pirouettes on the edge. Even more than he realizes, since I’ve been neurotically afraid of heights since the age of 13.

While moving from one duty assignment to another, my family took a rest stop in a natural forest reserve in Alabama. Six kids – four boys – in a station wagon meant lots and lots of leg breaks. Otherwise spitting contests would be the entertainment of the day, and I never won spitting contests. I saw a tower with stairs and thought it would be cool to climb to the top for a look. Which then turned into a dare, which of course had to be taken. Up I climbed. That was the easy part. I always felt obliged to follow my older brother, David. If only to prove to him that he was not near as cool as he thought. The view was spectacular, and when I looked down, my other brothers looked like ants standing next to one big ant that was bellowing something incomprehensible – probably our names. My stomach lurched. At what height did humans begin looking like ants? While doing the math, I panicked. Then David proved he was totally cooler than me. He calmly told me the trap door above us was locked. We had to go in reverse. I found out at several hundred feet up; I don’t do reverse. I don’t know what big brother did. I do know Dad yelled at us all the way to Florida.

Which is why I have no idea why I love flying. I especially love the take offs and landings. So I reasoned, when I took Michael up on his offer, that I would be OK for the beginning and the end of our adventure. I just had to get over the middle part. I have to say that he was excellent company at 3000 feet. He took his time to explain an overview of the basics of flying. I had no idea, for example, that steering involved 2 rudder pedals and a stick. After only a mild bout of tipping wings and slight nose diving, I actually got a feel for “flying by the seat of your pants” as Michael put it. The cockpit of this truly fun and fully aerobatic aircraft sat a lot like a motorcycle. Pilot in front; passenger behind. Michael is a tall man, and I’m tall for a woman, but I still couldn’t see the plane icon on the control panel. The one that shows when you are tilting. When I design airplanes, I would give each person their own control panel. For a few minutes I was in control, and it was exhilarating. The day was clear and sunny. Oklahoma looked like a palette of colors and designs at high altitudes. I tried not to think of birds.

One thing that all future pilots must respect is the barf factor. Looking out across the horizon and keeping it in sight, as opposed to staring at the “ants” on the ground, definitely helps keep lunch where God intended it. I turned the plane not only left, but right, without crashing. Then Michael took over, and we did some serious tight turns and a wing over (a mild aerobatic maneuver). We were moving over 120 mph at 3000 feet. Hallelujah! There is something about S curves at high speeds that just gets my rocks off.

And when you perform that maneuver 3000 feet over the earth it is just as fun, until you hit turbulence. We’ve hit major wind slaps on The Mistress. I shouldn’t have felt the need to grab the pilot by the throat. I never grabbed RD by the throat. Well once, but that was when I was delivering our daughter. It had to be the “distance from earth” fear left over from my Alabama tower incident. After we safely landed, Michael gave me a brief lecture on never ever getting in the plane with someone who doesn’t have many hours in the cockpit. He also stressed, “no hot dogging.” Like he says, “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but very few old and bold pilots.” And even fewer that remain calm when grabbed by the throat.

See you on the road,


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