"Are you in a fucking helicopter?" I laughed when I read this text the other day. My worries that my tweets were not going through at this height were instantly dispelled.
How do I get myself into these situations? Well, I demand no less than a helicopter (Embro1) wherever I go, but this time around I had to settle for a L4 Piper airplane, otherwise known as the "Grasshopper
." Kidding about the demanding thing, and if truth be told, for the sake of journalism I would think that truth is always
In any case, James and I were just about to take off to the start line when Dan Sharp aka Chris Milliman aka Dan Sharp (truth always told) came over to the car with a serious look on his face. "Anyone want to go up in an airplane?" he calmly stated as he leaned in the passenger side window. It was a serious look, but at the same time a little bemused at the situation. My gut reaction in situations like these, be it good or bad, is to say "yes, of course." For example, if Dan had come up to the car and said "We need someone to wrestle an alligator..." I will always be the first to raise my hand. It does not actually mean that I want
to wrestle an alligator, it is probably just some knee jerk reaction to being left out of middle school sports, a deeply embedded reaction to being left out of the action.
So, when Dan gives me that stern look that he does, with one eyebrow raised that says "I think we are going to need someone to do this..." of course I say yes. I did not even think beyond the fact that this was something close to my civic duty to god and country. I would be going up in this plane.
From that point on everything happened with such a timed efficiency as to not sway my abrupt decision. Had there been just a moments worth of stall, just a minute of lag-time and surely I would have begged off. Quite possibly Mr. Sweeney knew this from the get go (was it possible that I was visually nervous?) because he kept up quite a banter about how he came to be in love with flying, how the plane worked and all that. He did a good job of keeping it up, because if I had time to get a word in edgewise I might have actually backed out. Especially after seeing the plane that I was about to get into.
We drove out to the airport. If that is what you would call this one-windsock little strip of grass on the edge of town, to see Mr. Rich Sweeney's L4 "Grasshopper." Not only was this machine completely restored by Mr. Sweeney himself but it did look to be in complete and working order, and was utterly spotless to boot. The working order on one of these quaint little birds of flight contains no real electronic hardware anyway, so I figured that we would be fine. (WTF?) And anyway, this guy Rich has been doing this for something like "a long time" which was his stock answer to my continual badgering. "Don't you worry about that," was another "you just worry about how to fly this thing if for some reason I can't once we are up there." Oh, ok, well, thanks for that.
I clambered aboard the plane and was seated in front. Which, looking back on it how was probably the best spot to be, because again, if I had to see with what simple knobs and pulleys that Rich was flying this plane, I might have backed out.
In a manner of seconds we were up off the ground and moving away from the airstrip. The whole valley opened beneath us. A spotted treeline became a huge maze of simple looking pinecones at that height. Cell phone towers became toothpicks and cars on the road simple ants moving slowly towards their desired destinations. Now all of this is not out of the ordinary in any aviation situation. A jetliner (do they still call them that) or your common passenger bus plane will give the same effect. But what is lost there, that certainly was not here, was the immediacy of everything. Not only did I have a simple door made out of chromoly tubing with some kind of wind fairing on it, but it was only latched shut by the top portion of the window. In other words the only thing separating me from the outside world was a thin sheet of sheet metal.
Maybe not something that I would recommend for everyone, but certainly quite an experience. To see more of the Aerial photos check out the Rapha Blog.
Hans Poot, Peter Rubijono, these are all for you. I was thinking about you the whole time. You would have loved it, and I am not going to lie, it also kept me from being scared out of my freaking mind. Whew. Thanks for that. And a big thanks to Mr. Sweeney, who's straight up passion for flying was the only reason that this happened.