Sunday, August 2, 2009

A once in a lifetime chance

I promise, this week I'll get back to talking about running, biking and swimming. Of course, it will help that I won't have a sky full of airplanes to distract me.

But before that I need to talk about airplanes one more time. I promise. No more airplanes after this. But this time? It's big news people. It's not just planes that landed or that were coming to AirVenture.

No this is about how Friday morning I flew with a stunt pilot. We flew upside down and right side up and it was

Flying with an aerobatic pilot kind of fell in my lap late last week. Another reporter I work with was originally scheduled to fly with John Klatt on Thursday morning. But it was rescheduled after it rained all Thursday morning.

So when my boss called Thursday afternoon and asked, "So do you want to fly with a stunt pilot tomorrow morning?" I couldn't say no. I was being given a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I knew if I turned it down, I'd be kicking myself in the rear end and regretting it.

Even though I was nervous, I said yes. Barely slept Thursday night and was wide awake at 6 a.m. Friday, ready to fly. I didn't eat anything for breakfast, didn't even take the medicine I take every morning. I didn't want to chance having it come back up when I went upside down.

I went out to the hangar and met up with a photographer I work with who was going to be flying in a chase plane and taking pictures. At this point, I think I looked nervous because Klatt's air show team were like, don't worry, you'll be fine. John's a really good pilot. Just enjoy yourself.

Moments later, the plane taxied up to the hangar and it was time to get ready to fly. I signed a waiver, put on a parachute and settled into the cockpit (with a barf bag stuck under my five-point harness, just in case). I was in the front seat and the pilot was flying from the backseat. We taxied out to the runway and we were off.

After a five minute flight, we were flying over Lake Butte des Morts and all over a sudden John Klatt is talking to me over the headset.

"You ready to fly upside down?"

Yup. Let's go.

And we were upside down with the lake below my head. Nothing fancy. Just flying upside down in a straight line. My stomach felt fine. I could feel the pressure in my head, but it wasn't bad. Then the plane was righted.

"What'd you think?"

I liked it. Let's keep flying. And we did. Some more upside down flying and then it was time to roll. We rolled. And rolled. And kept rolling. We rolled so many times I lost count and was starting to get dizzy. I was about to ask John Klatt to stop rolling due to the dizziness when the plane stopped spinning. Good thing. A couple of more rolls and maybe I would have had to reach for that barf bag.

Then it was time for the loop-de-loop. Really weird sensation. Pressure going up, kind of felt normal at the top of the loop and holy pressure on the head when coming back to the bottom of the loop. Then it was time for flying straight up and kind of hanging out there in mid-air for a moment or two before we dove straight back down towards the (very green) lake.

"What'd you think?"

Very cool. I wanted to keep flying and doing some tricks, but my time was up.

When we got back to the airport and I got myself out of the cockpit, my legs were a little wobbly, but after downing some water and (eventually) putting some food in my stomach I felt fine.

Like I said, I was a bit nervous at first, but I think that was mostly due to the anticipation. Because once they threw that parachute on my back I was totally calm and excited about what I was about to do. I knew that not everyone gets the chance to go up in a plane with a stunt pilot, and I was fortunate my job gave me this opportunity.

When I got back to the little shack I worked out of all week, I took a few moments to really soak in the experience and reflect on what I'd just done. I wanted to remember what it felt like. What I had just done. I didn't want to forget. And I'm lucky the photographer I work with was up in the chase plane, because she captured some amazing shots that I'll be able to look back at. And there's video footage of me in the cockpit (yes, through the entire flight a camera was staring me straight in the face) that I haven't gotten a chance to watch yet, but I've heard it's amusing.

Like I said, my days of airplanes are done. Now it's time to buckle down and get in a few decent workouts before the Oshkosh Triathlon this weekend.

*Photo by Shu-Ling Zhou of the Oshkosh Northwestern*


Loots said...

I so need to watch that video. What an amazing experience!

Anonymous said...

awesome! Shu-Ling takes the BEST photos ... sounds like you had a great time!

Runner Leana said...

Wow, that is awesome! Definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. Beautiful pictures as well.