Writer’s Block: Once in a Lifetime

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

February 19, 2015

I often tell people that this job is perfectly suited to the type of person I am. I’m a naturally curious person and can find interest in almost any subject matter, from politics to sports, from science and technology to entertainment. Being a journalist affords me the opportunity to satisfy my curiosity by continually learning about those subjects, both familiar and new, and oftentimes with a front-row seat few others experience.

On one occasion, however, I wasn’t sitting front and center —camera and notepad in hand— but was relegated to the back seat.  Still, it’s one of the best seats I’ve ever had a chance to sit in. And the view wasn’t too shabby either.

A couple of years ago, I had chance to take to the sky in a World War II era fighter plane, a North American AT-6 Texan, as part of a stunt flight demonstration. The single-prop plane — painted in vivid red and white livery, with a black and white checker pattern painted on its nose — was to be one of four such aircraft flown in a diamond formation by the AeroShell Aerobatic Team.

Each plane seats two people, so I and three other journalists were offered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’d been on commercial planes before, and even small Cessnas, but this was going to be different. Once at cruising altitude, the pilots position the planes so that the wingtips just six inches apart. While maintaining that proximity, they perform synchronized maneuvers, including a barrel roll and a loop-de-loop.

A barrel roll causes the plane to turn on its long axis, first going upside down then right side up again, like a flapjack being flipped over twice. A loop-de-loop gets you upside down, too, but is done by first flying upwards in an arc, and then curving back around to level. It’s akin to the carnival rides that can be seen at area stock shows and rodeos and are made of large steel circles and rails that rise almost as high as a Ferris wheel.

Both maneuvers, I would later learn, applied about four “G” forces on us passengers. That meant  my arms, which I had raised to hold my camera up to the glass canopy to take photos, suddenly felt four times heavier than normal as the increased relative gravity pushed against them. Imagine trying to do arm curls with a barbell and take photos at the same time. That’s what it felt like. At least, that’s what it felt like in my arms. My stomach was another story. For a second, I felt as if my stomach was in my throat before it settled back down to its normal spot just below my ribs.

What surprised me was how fast it happened even though our pilots let us know when they were about to execute each maneuver. It starts with feeling like you’re being pushed back in your seat, similar to how it feels when flooring the gas pedal in a car, then suddenly, you’re weightless! For a brief second, gravity is overpowered. Then, just as swiftly, the weight comes crashing down on every part of you before evening out again. It was spectacular!

Soon, we were back on the tarmac and taxiing off the runway. Climbing off the side of the fuselage, my legs felt a little bit like Jell-O and my head was still spinning with the rush. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. It took a few minutes for the adrenaline to wear off, but the memory is still bright in my mind. And while that flight was a unique one, Valley residents can create aeronautic memories of their own this weekend. Air Fiesta 2015 is happening this Saturday and Sunday at the Brownsville – South Padre Island International Airport. It’s a great family friendly affair that’s gone on, rain or shine, for over two decades. For more information, call  (956) 541-8585, and as always, be sure to visit us online at www.portisabelsouthpadre.com.

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