HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

Display

Soaring high in a ‘blast from the past’

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Last week I journeyed back to the World War II era via a Stearman biplane - thanks to the Red Baron Pizza Squadron, a performer in last weekend's Airpower Arkansas Air Show.
Hopefully you witnessed their aerial acrobatics and I'm fortunate to say I went up with the four, modern day "barnstormers" on a media flight Thursday.
In the weeks prior to the flight, I anticipated the best but prepared for the worst.
I listened to jealous friends tell me I was going to lose my breakfast and my video camera. So, on Thursday, I skipped the most important meal of the day and planned to tightly wrap my camera's harness around my right arm.
But as I was about to do so minutes before my flight, Travis Aukes, my skilled pilot, politely informed me we would have to remove all straps from the camera. He said, "I can't have anything flapping around hitting me in the face."
It made sense to me.
Plus, at least now I had an excuse if my kung fu grip failed me at 1,500 feet causing me to return to my office less one video camera.
While fastening my parachute and seat belts, Travis explained how to "bail out" on his command and deploy my chute in case of an emergency. Admittedly, this added a bit of nervousness before take-off but I figured it's better than not having a "Plan B."
As we taxi down the runway, the autumn air is a cool 55 degrees. Winds at ground-level gust through the open cockpit at 18 mph. My adrenaline kicks in as internal heating device. Once we are airborne, it might as well have been 80 degrees and calm.
The sky above North Little Rock Airport was crystal clear. The scenery from a bird's eye made me appreciate the natural state's aesthetics. As we flew in the slot position, I looked left and filmed the remaining three planes soaring eerily close to each other. All four planes still in position, we performed a formation loop.
It was my first dose of trickery - I was hooked.
When we broke away from the formation and Travis asked if I was ready for some barrel rolls, it was an easy thumbs up and "heck yeah!" It is difficult to differentiate up from down during these maneuvers as evidenced by the video I shot.
Finally, we executed my personal favorite, the hammerhead. We quickly ascended straight up, perpendicular to the ground. It was at this point that I swear I felt my stomach touch my spinal cord. Suddenly, we paused and there was an extraordinary peaceful silence like being in the eye of a storm. The plane slowly turned over and down we went, nose down plunging rapidly toward the earth.
We pulled up and eventually rejoined the formation before breaking off one-by-one to, unfortunately, land.
When we came to a halt, I felt like a kid the day after Christmas.
I climbed off the Stearman, video camera securely in hand and no evidence of sickness on my person. I immediately took off my goggles and shook my new, favorite pilot's hand and thanked him for the most thrilling 20 minutes of my life. I turned to high-five Airman 1st Class Steele Britton, a still photographer who flew with Bryan Regan in the lead position.
I left the airport driving in my boring automobile - disappointed that I was no longer airborne - with a newfound appreciation for aerobatics, "G" forces and physics.