It's A Bird; It's A Plane; It's The Local Tourist!

When I was 18 I worked at a General Aviation Airport. My job was to book the flight instructors, help with charters, read the windsock and tell the pilots which runway to use. During that time I dreamed of getting my license. Instead, I married a pilot.

Both the job and the husband are long gone, but what’s remained is my love of planes and of flying. That’s why the Chicago Air & Water Show is one of my favorite events of the year, and why I jumped at the chance to fly with the Lima Lima team during Media Day at the Gary Jet Center.

Last year I flew with the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. These World War II-era planes do some loopedy-loops and that just made me scream with joy so I figured I could handle the Beech T-34 Mentor, especially when I noticed in my cockpit that it said “No Aerobatics”.

I thought it might be a leisurely jaunt around the lake. Until my pilot, Skip “Scooter” Aldous began walking me through unhooking myself from the plane and then disconnecting myself from the parachute once I hit the water. “Find a seam and grab it, then just keep pulling hand over hand for about 23 feet.” At least I think that’s what he said. I was too busy making sure my straps were pulled tight.

It started off smoothly enough. We taxied past an F-16, Skip’s former plane, past the cornfields (we were in Indiana, after all), and lined up at the end of the runway. The takeoff was a comparatively gentle lift into the air, and as I looked around I saw the other planes in the formation. The six of us made our way out over Lake Michigan, and that’s when the fun began.

I’d asked Skip about the “No aerobatics” sign and he said “we’ve got a couple more tweaks to make, but I think you’ll find this thrilling enough.” Indeed I did. There were steep banks and close cut turns and almost instantaneous altitude changes of hundreds of feet. I was glad I’d only had a smoothie for breakfast!

At one point clouds of gray closed in on my pupils and I could feel the beginnings of a blackout. There was no way in Hell I was going to let that happen, so I ducked my head a bit and it cleared up. I realized part of the problem was that in addition to the plane turning this way and that, I was pushing my limits by trying to photograph and video every angle. I was somewhat embarrassed until Skip told me as we were landing “now you can tell your son that you’ve pulled 4 G’s.” 


Of course, what was an electrifying and somewhat rattling experience for me was just another day at the office for Skip. He flies these shows from April through October. When I asked him which was his favorite, his response was “not Chicago!” He said it’s because they have to work too much at this one, with the media flights (sorry!) and different appearances they have to make, but the exposure is necessary. He prefers the smaller, more community based shows. Retired 16 years from the Air Force, he’s spent the last 10 with the Lima Lima team. When he’s not flying with them he’s kicking back in the Virgin Islands. As you watch them perform keep an eye out for the plane with USAF on the wing – all the rest are Navy planes. I can tell you when I see them I’ll be remembering what it felt like to have my weight increased four times and have the blood pool at my feet and the awe from looking at the blazing sun one minute and the sparkling water the next.

My next goal is to fly with the Blue Angels. After that? Maybe Richard Branson’s got some room for me.







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