Better Late Than Never!! Here it IS!!
My boyfriend Kevin, (Multi/IFR/Comm - Boeing LGB C-17 Avionics) told me he had a surprise for my birthday, June 4th last month. (I have been meaning to post this for quite some time, waiting on some pictures, but will use what I have)
He knows I am a plane freak and have been dying for an aerobatic ride ever since I flew in the Marchetti. However, he would not reveal the surpise no matter how hard I tried, so I just gave up, thinking it would be a Cessna flight or LearJet Sim ride (one of his friends from ERAU
flies LJs and BBJs, has access to an FS). So he picks me up at LAX after riding the airport bus from BFL (sweet deal, fifty bucks RT - beats driving the 405). I was told to be ready for the surprise and wear a jacket, might be chilly. “Ok, definately a sailboat thing”, I thought.
We started heading inland from LAX, I thought, “Where the hell is he taking me?”. I saw street sign names like “Crenshaw”, “Normandie”
and was getting somewhat nervous. I then said, “KevBear, we are in Compton, are you LOST?” as I checked the door. I didn’t think we could be lost because he can flip through GPS menus like playing Solitare, he does it for a living afterall.
We were not lost he said. Something was definately up.
He wouldn’t talk, he just pulled up to a brick wall with a rolling gate in the middle of Compton. It was a GA airport! Wooot!! Next thing I know, this handsome “mature” pilot with silvery hair drives up in a red truck and escorts us to a hangar. Ok, now I know it involves planes. The pilot’s name was Mike and his brother Kenny was there. Kevin said, “Well, we’re going to do a photo shoot of you with the plane”. I was excited! What plane?
Then Mike and Kenny rolled back the hangar door. OH MY GOD!! A beautiful, yellow, vintage Bi-Plane in perfect condition, awaited. I still thought we were going to do a photo shoot. I asked sheepishly, “I should know this, but WHAT is that?”. It was a 1942 Stearman!! Holy Crap!! Gorgeous!!
Mike grabbed the towbar and brought her out. Then Kevin took out his checkbook and said, “You’re going up!” “OMG!! NO WAY, REALLY??!!” I could not believe it!! I always wanted to since I saw the crop dusters in the valley flying over the freeway at 100 ft AGL or so!!
First, we had to talk about how to get me up in the cockpit. Only a few people here know, but I have a progressively degenerative neuromuscular disease related to ALS, Lou Gerhrig’s Disease. They are still trying to figure out exactly what it is, but it has now affected my legs and I can’t go up stairs. Mike and Kenny have had a lot of experience getting people a lot worse off than me into the aircraft, so I had nothing to be afraid of. We’d go slow.
After a safety review, and a parachute fitting, we got me into the aircraft. It took a while, believe me, but I was determined!! The final touch was the canvas helmet! Who cares about hair at that point!!! Smash it down!! Captain Mike was in the back, I was upfront. “Clear Prop” and Kenny hand-turned the prop over!
I had never seen anything like this cockpit, as basic as you could get, and the stick…was a stick. A real stick, like a skinny Louisville Slugger with a trigger button!! The oilcan was between my feet!! OMG!!! This was bare bones almost-as-out-there-as-you-could-get flying!! Captain Mike told me since I have had experience, this was going to be a flight lesson. After the takeoff roll and climb out, he gave me the aircraft and I flew to the coast, parallel to LAX. Downtown LA was on my right. He told me to turn left and follow the coast to Palo Verde.I only lost about 5 feet of altitude in the turn, EXCELLENT!!
I flew to the point, where the cheap real estate was… well, if you were Donald Trump. I have never seen such houses… like Greek Temples with Infinity Pools on the cliffs. At one point we dipped down low to see the caves underneath the cliffs, but not TOO low!! I could smell the ocean!!!
Then, Captain Mike said, “Are you ready?” I said, “Let’s light this candle, HIT IT!!!”
He yanked back on the stick and we shot up into the air around the clouds. The medium cumulous clouds were arranged like chess pieces, you could fly through the clear space between, but not punch them. I knew this, but I asked anyway. No can do… Dang!
Then Captain Mike pulled us into a LOOP!!! OMG, like riding a looping roller coaster, but slower!! I felt my body hanging from the harness at the top and I was very thankful for it at that point!! I just put my head back and looked out to the side through the whole thing! Then we did ROLLS!! OMG !!! More screaming and laughing. Rolls to the left and right, more LOOPS!!! I did NOT get sick!! I think we did a Wing Over at some point too.
The one manuever that really got to me was the SPIN. HOLY CRAP!!! I was looking straight down at the ocean as we spun down. That one was unnerving, but I loved it when we pulled out of it! I think I pulled about 6 Gs, can’t remember exactly. I marvelled at how those that came before me could spin, aim, shoot, all the while being shot at, and still maintain their orientation.
After all this my legs had begun cramping from the cold, as we were at sunset. Captain Mike decided to fly amongst the clouds to give me a rest and that’s when the most beautiful thing happened. As we turned toward Catalina, the setting sun cast our shadow on a cloud to our left. I looked over and gasped, there we were, our shadow surrounded by a sphere of rainbows. I was just stunned by this, and saw it as a sign that we were truly blessed.
Then, we turned around and did it off the right wing. It was a surreal moment. I started thinking about the aviators before me, from 1942 who trained in that plane… and fought and maybe even died. For some reason, it became entirely appropriate in that moment to recite “High Flight” in their honor. I clicked the inboard mic and Captain Mike and I recited the poem together as tears fell down my cheeks. I will never forget this moment, as long as I live.
It was now time to head back to the airport. As we turned to LGB, we could see a Carnival cruise ship leaving the harbor. “Let’s buzz it!!” he said. We circled the ship about 3 or 4 times, in a steep banked fashion and then turned on the smoke!! I did the “Princess Wave” to the people on deck who were taking pictures and waving. How FUN!!! I just know, we are on YouTube somewhere!!
After buzzing the ship, we turned inland and Captain Mike asked me to find the airport. Yeah, right… “Look for a dirt patch”, he said. I found it, but we were not approaching in the fashion I was used to. I asked him, “Uhh, how are you going to approach? We seem high to where we should be”. He said, “Watch this, we’re going to do a turn down to the runway”. “What?!! You mean like a reverse Chandelle?” “Sort of, but just watch” OMG, I had never landed like that, we were on the ground in like 5 minutes. Amazing, truly amazing. I didn’t want it to end!!!
Kevin and Kenny were waiting at the hangar, and it took the guys a while to pry me out of the aircraft. I didn’t care I was shaking from the cold and my hair was flat. I just had the time of my life, a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a vintage Stearman. Way better than a gift card from Nordstrom!
I hugged and kissed Captain Mike and Kenny… and then we were off to my favorite Brazilian steakhouse for some serious carnivore action. I was starved and breathless. Thank you Captain Mike, Kenny and KevBear. I want to go again!!!
CAVU Skies Everyone!!