Saturday, 2:15 PM
Upside-down over the ocean: a reporter learns how to fly
(Lindsay M. Harnack)
By Maddie Hanna, Globe Correspondent
A thousand feet above the Atlantic, John Klatt decides he's going to test how tight my harness is.
Our plane flips. I fall into my shoulder straps, head hanging over the ocean below.
"You OK?" Klatt asks over the intercom.
As I drove to the Air National Guard base in North Kingstown, R.I., I wasn't nervous about flying along with Klatt, a pilot with 23 years of National Guard and air show experience, but I was nervous when I got there.
"Are you a thrill seeker?" Klatt asked, grinning.
I was nervous when Ryan Dulas, Klatt's mechanic, outfitted me in a straitjacket-like parachute harness. He finished without explaining how to use it.
"Which thing do I pull?" I asked.
"It's easy," he said, mimicking the motion, yanking his hand across his chest. "What's hard is jumping."
I was most nervous when Klatt told me I would be flying the plane, too.
"Hey, I can't drive well," I whispered to Dulas.
"Don't worry," he said, tucking a vomit bag into my harness.
We sat on the runway. Klatt, who had climbed in behind me, revved the engine of his Extra-300L, a two-seater painted red, white, and blue. It sounded like a car that would not start.
"We're going to have fun," Klatt said. It was probably the fifth time he had reminded me. We waited. Then, the cue cracked through my headset: "We're off."
The plane rumbled down the runway, and soon we were soaring. Narragansett Bay sparkled below, its white sailboats, which looked motionless, growing smaller. It was, as Klatt said, beautiful.
But enjoying the scenery and clear, 80-degree day wasn't enough. Klatt wanted to loop.
"How do you feel about being upside down?" he asked.
"OK," I ventured.
We rolled, and sea became sky. I think I screamed. Despite the straps digging into my hips, I felt like I was dangling. I grabbed my harness for the comfort of grabbing something. If the engine dies, I thought, I am going down, fast. A straitjacketed sack of potatoes.
But as we flipped upright, I realized why Klatt must love this: It's really fun. Like a rollercoaster ride that keeps going. And I was only getting the kiddie version.
"How was that?" Klatt asked. Assured that I hadn't already put my sick bag to use, he next led the plane through a gentle loop. The world spun as we slowly tilted backward, carving a wide circle out of the sky. We tried several more maneuvers, each a little more daring than the last: half rolls, full rolls, and even a torque roll, which sends the plane straight up, then rolling back down through its own smoke. Unlike the other aerobatics Klatt tamed down for me, he performs that move during air shows -- though he does it much faster and sharper.
Convinced, somehow, that I was competent enough not to plunge the plane into a nosedive, Klatt offered to let me steer. I took the stick and, listening to his instructions, dragged it toward me, drawing the plane into a loop. It was release-and-pull, give-and-take. We came out of the loop, somewhat off-kilter, but upright once again.
Klatt was satisfied.
"No hands!" he yelled into his headset. Not that I would have dared to turn around and look.
He let me roll left, and as I released, the stick kicked against my leg, the plane jolting a little. I'm sure I screamed.
But we didn't plummet. For a few minutes more, we hung there, staring into the biggest, bluest expanse I have ever seen.
Major John Klatt will be performing in this weekend's Rhode Island National Guard Open House air show. The show, which features a number of pilots and events, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Air National Guard Base in North Kingstown, R.I. For more information and directions, visit www.riairshow.org
(Lindsay M. Harnack)
This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.