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Saturday, July 10, 2010

One step closer to the craziest thing I've ever done

When I last left off, we had just arrived at the Gary Jet Center and my kids had been forbidden to say anything about any bodily functions that might inadvertently occur during my flight on a AT-6 Texan.

The Jet Center is a small private airport that see lots of corporate traffic from people doing business in or from Chicago and "the Region," as northwest Indiana is referred to. So while this crazy air show-related flight was a big deal to those of us going up, the folks at the Jet Center were a little inconvenienced by all the extra people milling around, possibly getting in the way of their real business.

I checked in with Erika from the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau who got me into this mess in the first place invited me to join this adventure. The kids (Mike being one of the kids here) were entertained to see several kinds of planes -- the Thunderbirds jets, the Lima Lima precision planes, the Texans and the Yak-52s lined up on the tarmac.

The Gary South Shore Air Show is what they call a deployed show. The planes take off from one location (the Jet Center), but perform at another location (over the beach on Lake Michigan). Within a few minutes, we met one of the air show volunteers, whose name escapes me now.

The volunteer was an Italian grandmotherly type. She told us that before our flight, we'd go over safety procedures with the pilot. When she said that we'd all be wearing parachutes, I didn't know whether to feel secure or scared sh*tless.

Grandma Airplane asked if anyone gets car sick. "If your stomach drops when you're on a roller coaster, that's normal," she said. "But if you have to sit in the front seat and hang your head out the window of the car on the highway, you might want to reconsider because it's no fun for us to have to stop everything to get you down and clean out the plane."

I told her I don't really get carsick, but I don't do roller coasters so I didn't know what my stomach would do. She had me really worried, but I wasn't about to change my mind. I'd already invested 150 miles and more than 3 hours in this adventure.

Then she took us out to get a closer look at the Texan:

T6 Texan

Of all the planes on the tarmac, the Texans had the bulkiest body. Although I really wasn't nervous at this point, I was happy to have been assigned to the chubby plane. Probably because of my own size and shape, I've always been drawn to the stockier sorts. Plus, it just felt safer and, I reasoned, would be likely to roll and flip more slowly than those skinny little planes parked nearby.

Most of the folks in our group kept a reasonable distance from the planes, as the FAA was still on site inspecting them. Of course "most" does not include Mike, Robbie and Charlie who cozied up right next to the plane, checking out everything. I was only slightly mortified when one of the Jet Center employees rushed over to the air show volunteer and whispered something, after which the volunteer loudly announced that no one should touch the planes. In the boys' defense, it wasn't like they were climbing on the wing or spinning the propeller. But I kind of wanted to hide anyway.

After our meet and greet with the planes, it was back to the exterior of the Jet Center to wait for FAA clearance. The weather was perfect -- upper 70s, lower 80s, beautiful blue and not humid skies.

My new friend Cherie, aka the Queen of Free, had not yet arrived and I began to wonder if maybe she'd changed her mind. But soon enough she was there with her daughter, a friend, and most importantly to me, gum and non-drowsy Dramamine. Well, it was Wal-amine. She is a frugal blogger after all.

There was a quite a bit of waiting to be done. And then, suddenly, they were calling my name and it was showtime! I closely watched the people coming off the Texans before us, looking for any sign of green faces, rubbery legs or other indications that might suggest to me I should turn and run. But they -- a radio station intern, a photographer for the Chicago Tribune, and reporter for a northern Indiana newspaper -- seemed no worse for the wear. Well, they weren't fist pumping and clamoring for another ride, but they weren't kissing the ground either.

Mike went out with me to snap a few pictures. I realized afterward that I didn't hug and kiss the kids goodbye. I just slipped away while they were watching a huge transport plane that looked like a manatee with wings maneuver along with runway.

Lined up

Amazingly, I still wasn't nervous. I was just excited about the opportunity. We would be flying with the Aeroshell team. I met Mark, my pilot, and after a quick introduction, he told me to go ahead and get in the plane.

I had to climb up onto the left wing, put my right foot on a hold in the side of the plane and climb in. Had I been any shorter than my 5-feet, 2-inches, I might have had to get a boost from behind.

Mike walked around to the other side of the plane to shoot video of Mark giving me the pre-flight instructions:

About the time Mark said "if you had to get out, you gotta do it yourself," I thought maybe I should get out of the plane NOW. But I didn't say anything other than "Ok. ok." and "I don't know what I've said yes to."

As I double checked the location of the sick bag, Mark climbed into his seat in front of me and Mike walked back to the Jet Center. I didn't kiss him goodbye either, which would have been hard to do from my ultra-buckled-attached-to-a-parachute spot in the back of the Texan. So it's a good thing I didn't die because I didn't kiss anyone before we took off. It's also a good thing I didn't die because I had to sign a waiver abdicating my right to sue should anything happen.

This was my view from the back seat:

View from the passenger seat

I started talking a lot to Mark because I was nervous. I asked him if he was a praying man (yes) and assured him that I'd already said more than a few Hail Marys. I found out he's from Birmingham, Alabama, that he's been flying aerial acrobatic planes for 25 years, and that he doesn't like roller coasters. Really?! There's some hope for me!

Just about the time Mark powered up the engine, I thought maybe I should tell him I changed my mind. I envisioned myself tossing off the parachute, hopping from the plane and running like a mad woman for the Jet Center, where I would grab my kids, hop in the van, head home and tell everyone that the flight had been canceled on account of bad weather.

But because I wanted to save face more than I wanted escape certain nausea, I stayed put. Besides, I had a blog to write! Now you stay put for the dramatic conclusion to my aerial adventure.


Sharon Cohen said...

What an adventure! I always wondered what it was like "behind the scenes" of an air show. But I would never have the guts to find out the way you have! I cannot wait until you post "the rest of the story"!

Joanie said...

John says that "manatee" plane is a C-141 and he used to jump out of them!

Joanie said...

I have to hand it to you, Amy. You are a far braver woman than I am!! Can' wait for the next installment!

Mrs4444 said...

Um, yeah. Better you than me! And don't worry--next time, you can remember to kiss everyone goodbye (I mean, see you later!)