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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why I Fly, Part 1.

Flying holds a magical dimension for many people. Just look around you next time you're on an airliner and you'll see many pairs of fascinated eyes scanning the plane, peeking into the cockpit and peering out the windows to observe the impressive ballet that takes place at airports around the world every single day. For some the appeal comes from the technology, for others it's just curiosity or amazement that gigantic machines such as the mighty 747 could ever lift their heavy bodies off the ground.
To me, flying evokes a profound element of freedom. Now, the Bushies have sort of raped the word, but as a young kid I read with amazement the stories of Antoine de Saint Exupery, Jean Mermoz, Charles Lindhberg and Amelia Earhart.
I would often daydream of strapping into an open-cockpit biplane -- you know one of those beautiful old birds from the 1920s and 1930s -- slapping an old-fashioned leather cap on my head and goggles over my eyes and flying low over rich countryside, skimming tree tops and diving low over golden corn fields. As the sun would set, I'd return to land on a small grass strip and put the plane to bed for the night.
Most of my flying experience is on the Cessna 172, a very nice and forgiving four-seat single engine aircraft, but my childhood fantasy sort of came true on what will probably remain the most special day of my life.

On June 4, 2005, Jen and I tied the knot at the East Chop Lighthouse on Martha's Viney
ard. After a lovely ceremony, we headed out to explore the island, with no plan in head. While walking through Edgartown looking for a place to have lunch, Jen spotted a flyer advertising rides in a 1941 Waco UPF7 at the nearby Katama Airport.
The aircraft, similar to the one pictured here only bright red, was used to train Air Force pilots and features a beautiful 220 horsepower radial engine, which emits a rumbling sound akin to music for pilots.
After meeting our pilot, Paul, we strapped on parachutes and both climbed in the front seat, where we buckled in. The engine sputtered to life and we were soon in the air, flying low over South Beach, a stone's throw from the airfield.
Paul climbed us to 5,000 over the Nantucket Sound, which was one of a few rare spots spared by a dense blanket of advection fog.
"Are you ready for something else," he asked over the radio.
I looked at Jen who gave me a broad smile. She knew what was coming and while I knew she was nervous she seemed to be excited.
"Sure thing," I replied.
A few seconds later we entered a spin, spiralling toward the ocean. After recovering, Paul pitched the Waco's nose down to gather speed then pulled back to put us into a loop. We floated for an instant at the top of the loop and looked straight up at the ocean. Coming out of the maneuver, we pulled 4Gs, or four times normal gravity.
Out of the loop, Paul put the plane into a barrel roll and then into a hammerhead. He pointed the nose straight up and the Waco began to slow. Just as it stopped flying and seemed to be hanging from the propeller, the pilot kicked in left rudder and over the left wing we pivoted, now heading straight down at the ocean.
So there it was... my chilhood dream of flying in an open-cockpit aircraft, and all of this on my wedding day.
The flight was also symbolic of Jen's support of my passion for flying.


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