Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Filling Space

Here take a gander at this instead of reading the Tuesday Evening triple post again.
**Click it to see it larger**

This is my favorite MMM entry. I surprised DH with a flight for his BD our first year of marraige, what a goof I was, as I'll never top that! LOL I hand made the poppellers to be 3D on the page.

If you are bored, here is the journaling. The journaling lifts twice to reveal more pictures and yes you guessed it, more journaling. ;)

It was mid September 2003 when I started planning what to get my new husband for his 28th birthday, on December 18th. I knew I wanted it to focus around airplanes and started my search for different tours and rides in northern California. To my dismay most option were in southern California or didn’t operate in December. I wanted this to be a surprise and was limited with my budget. I had been putting away money here and there for months but just in small amounts so Jeff wouldn’t notice.

Then one day while talking to a friend, Dale about my dilemma, he mentioned that he was a pilot and had some friends at a small local airport that may be able to work something out. A couple weeks went by and then came the call. He had arranged for Jeff to take a flight in a Yak 52. This is a two seated trainer plane that was used for combat training. Knowing Jeff’s love for history and old aircraft I could barely contain my excitement, and when I heard the cost I was thrilled. It was under my budget! I hung up the phone squealing and dancing. How on earth was I going to be able to keep this a secret when the truth was, I wanted to call him right away! I took a few deep breaths and did a quick online search of this aircraft, but all this did was get me all excited again.

I had to start planning. I concocted a story and this is how it played out. The morning of his flight, he knew something was planned for his birthday. I told him to bring all his best photography equipment, which he packed into the trunk of the car and we were off. As we neared the airport, knowing he would be wondering and not wanting him to suspect, I gave him this bogus story…“Ok, I’m going to tell you what your surprise is and I hope you like it because I’m so excited for you. I’ve arranged for you to have a private tour of a collection of old aircraft. You’re aloud to photograph them inside and out. They even said you can get in them!” He didn’t say much but was smiling. All I could say was “I really hope you enjoy this!” Jeff loves photography so I knew this story would be a good explanation for my excitement over what I planned. I had been teasing him for weeks about his birthday surprise.

When we arrived, we met Dale inside and he took us around back to the hangers where he introduced us to the pilot and owner of one of the planes. Everyone was versed on the story but half way into his explanation, the pilot let it slip. At this point I didn’t care, I just wanted to jump up and down and could tell by the grin on Jeff’s face that he could barely believe it. As we walked around to get Jeff set up, the pilot made the comment that I was an awesome wife and he could only wish that his would give him such a cool gift. Once they were off, I headed back to the waiting room. I couldn’t wait until he got back to hear all the details. But this story wouldn’t be complete with out his recap. There’s nothing like hearing it straight from the horse mouth…

After introducing himself, the pilot pointed out the various aircraft available for me to photograph, sit in and learn about during my visit. He concluded by pointing to one blue and white Yak 52 trainer and quietly said, “This is the plane you will be flying in.” I smiled, but not too big. I had to remain stoic while I tried to figure out what kind of terribly cruel joke this guy was trying to pull. I had clearly heard the words “you” and “flying”, all in one sentence. Noticing Danea looking at me with a huge grin on her face, I knew I had heard right. Yup - the cat’s out of the bag. Surprise!

Not being the uncontrolled over exuberant kind of guy, I calmly listened as the pilot explained that he would take me up and we would fly formation with a friend of his who had a Yak as well. Also we could just fly around for a bit of sight seeing. He led us to his hangar where I could be fitted into one of his many flying suits. Then, as he strapped a parachute to me, he carefully explained that it was really only a safety precaution and also that Murphy’s Law states that if you don’t have it, you’ll need it! He also gave me instruction on the proper way to unbuckle the safety harness and roll out of the aircraft. “Right after you clear the aircraft, pull the cord. Don’t wait like they do in the movies, counting to ten! You wouldn’t have that kind of time, just yank the cord! Got it?” “yeah, got it!” I responded.

I climbed into the Yak, sitting in the rear seat whereas he pointed out the various controls and gauges, giving me a quick course on flying. As a training aircraft, he explained that it’s not a difficult plane to fly, it just goes where you point it. Following that most basic flying lesson, he quickly strapped on his parachute and jumped into the front seat. He started the engine, letting it idle for a few minutes to let it warm up before taxiing to the runway. At the end of the runway, off to one side, he ran the engine up to further warm it up while radioing any local air traffic, notifying them of his intention to take off. Once safe to do so, he released the brakes and turned onto the runway, slowly adding throttle. Hundreds of feet later and full throttle he pulled back on the stick and away we were, rapidly climbing to around 6000 feet where we leveled off and met up with his friend in the other Yak.

Moving into position behind and to the left of the other aircraft, our wingtip was not more than 10 feet away from the leading Yak’s tail. We then began a series of turns and climbs all while in formation. We switched positions with the other Yak and we would take the lead. “How ya feeling back there, Jeff?” the pilot called back over the headset, making sure I wasn’t loosing my lunch over all the gauges. “Great!” I answered. At this point I realized my jaw was beginning to ache from the excessive amount of grinning - but was I going to complain? Not a chance!

“How about some mock dog fighting?” the pilot radioed back. “Think you could handle that?” “Sure, I’ll let you know if I start to feel nauseous.” Radioing his friend, the chase was on. We accelerated and turned onto his tail to try and follow any moves he made trying to evade us. He was only a couple hundred feet ahead of us, but at 220 m.p.h. thing happen quickly. I see the “enemy” bank hard to the right and dive out of my sight, but he wasn’t going to get away that easily. My pilot rolled our Yak over onto it’s back, and pulled back on the stick in hot pursuit. I watched as the Earth was now above my head , and inertia had me planted in my seat as he was pulling up out of a sort of half loop, not far behind our target.

For a few minutes we dove, rolled, climbed and performed many aerobatic maneuvers attempting to stay on his tail. Success! He couldn’t shake us! “You all right back there, Jeff?” he called back to check on me. “You bet! This is great!” I responded. But now it was our turn to run. We climbed back to a safe altitude to begin once again, this time with OUR butt in the ringer. “Ok, hang tight!” he cautioned. And with that, he pushed forward on the stick and began an incredibly steep dive. We went from about 6000 feet to 2000 feet in less than ten seconds pulling up and banking hard to the right. With astonishing intensity, my body was pinned down into the seat of the Yak 52! It took all my neck’s strength to hold my head up off my chest. I watched as the G-load meter indicated that for a few seconds we were pulling about 5.5 times the force of gravity. In chasing the other Yak, we had pulled around 3 Gs, but that was mere child’s play compared to this.

The diving, turning, rolling and even loops went on for a few minutes, all in our attempt to flee our pursuer, but he was just too good. We couldn’t shake him. The pilot told me his friend’s Yak was a higher performance version and quite a bit faster. We let the engine cool off a bit by slowing down to cruising speed and discussing what to do next. He suggested we fly to the coast only about 10 minutes away, over the hills that surround the bay area. As we cruised in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, he told me that I could slide the canopy back which would supply some fresh air. Upon doing so, I noticed I could smell the exhaust and for the first time I felt a little bit nauseous from the fumes. It wasn’t all too bad, the cool wind was nice since it did get quite warm inside the plane from the sun high overhead.

“Hey Jeff, why don’t you take the stick for a bit?” I heard over the headset. “She’ll fly herself pretty much, all you have to do is hold the stick to maintain altitude. Gently move the stick to make any corrections in altitude or direction. It won’t take much!” “Ok!” I answered excitedly. Following his instruction, I pulled back slightly on the stick to gain a bit of altitude to clear the mountain tops. He then told me I could practice a few turns on our way to the ocean. “It doesn’t take much movement of the stick to turn or to correct. Just head in the general direction of the ocean.” he said. Not wanting to pass this opportunity to perform some basic flying, I gently nudged the stick right and left to perform gentle S turns to get a feel for the aircraft. After passing over the last mountain top, he instructed me to gently push the nose of the Yak down to drop to 1500 feet of altitude over the beach. I then gently banked to the right to follow the beach northward.

What a stunning sight to behold! Taking back control, the pilot dropped down to about 500 feet above the coastline. I had been to the beach many times before and seen many small aircraft following the coast, enjoying what I could only imagine to be a spectacular view. Now, here I am living what I thought I would only ever dream of. Oddly enough, only from this vantage point, provided by a mechanical wonder, could I ever have seen the magnificent splendor of nature’s work. The long, winding beaches and jagged cliffs that unfold around each curve in the coastline, all carved from solid earth, instill in me a sense of the beauty, awe and power that one could not begin to appreciate without the miracle of flight.

Carefully scanning the coastline, attempting to absorb as much scenery as humanly possible, we pass over a small group of surfers, waving to us as we pass overhead. I happily wave back. “Let’s go up higher and I’ll show ya something that’ll get your blood pumping!” the pilot called back. “Alright, sure!” I answered, not quite knowing what he had in mind. For a few minutes we spiraled upward in long sweeping circles to around 7000 feet. Pointing to a small puffy cloud off to our right, he says, “That’s our target! Were going to dive right through it!” As we approached the cloud, I became suddenly aware that this “small” cloud was quite a bit bigger than I first suspected.

We were probably about 100 feet above the cloud as we started to pass over. “Hang tight!” he says, providing little warning for what was about to happen. He then quickly rolls the aircraft over, positioning the cloud right above our heads and yanks back on the control stick slicing our way into the heart of the cloud! For a couple brief seconds we were completely enveloped in white, where I totally lost any sense of the horizon. Then, in a flash the cloud is gone and all I see is sunlight shimmering off the blue green water below us - or is it above us!? I had been completely disoriented from the rolling dive, but of course the pilot was fully in control and quickly leveled out. What a ride!

We flew up the coast for about 15 minutes, passing many familiar landmarks. As we approached Half Moon Bay, the pilot told me it was time to head back. Fuel was limited, and we only had enough for about another half hour, but it was near 20 minutes back to the airfield. After setting our heading straight for home, the pilot called back offering to let me take control once again! Unquestionably I accepted his offer. Taking the stick, I followed his instructions, climbing to about 5500 feet. The return flight over the mountains was bumpier than the last, forcing me to continuously level the wings, correcting for the turbulent mountain drafts. The pilot told me he was very impressed with my ability to control the Yak. After all, I’ve never had any experience flying whatsoever. Most everyone way overcorrects their first time out he tells me. I tried to smile with self satisfaction, but wouldn’t you know it, my lips and cheeks were already stretched to their max, as they were the entire trip, from a smile that just could not be erased.

Taking control back as we neared the airfield, the pilot said we had to scan the sky for other aircraft before we could attempt to land. Being such a small airfield, there was no one controlling the airspace around the runway. It was simply first come first serve and everyone is responsible for following the rules of safe flight. There was almost no other air traffic around so we headed in and gingerly touched down. We exited the runway near the hangar and slowly taxied over to the pilot’s home base. Cutting the engine the pilot pulled back the canopy and hopped out. Still smiling I unbuckled the safety harness and climbed out. I thanked the pilot for such a terrific experience. Walking to the main lobby, searching for Danea, I was engulfed in the idea that my mind had been made up - I needed to learn to fly! Why only dream about it, when you could fly as a hobby!

I was thrilled that Jeff had such a great time. I know it is a dream and only time before he starts flying lessons of his own. But all this flying talk has left me with one problem, how on earth will I ever top that birthday gift? Maybe I should have waited a few years into the marriage!


Miss M! said...

Yeah, you're never gonna top that! LOL! The journaling was EXCELLENT, both you and Jeff did a great job. I was excited for you both just reading it all!