Open Air Biplane (341st new thing).

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

I bought a Groupon type deal for a biplane ride not long after I turned 29. As the days ticked by, and the expiration date neared, I figured I should use the deal so I called to schedule a flight. Unfortunately, part of the deal meant that two people would be squeezed into the front of the plane. I, with just my single ticket and no passenger, would have to wait until at least April when another single person had made an appointment. April, as in a month after I turned thirty. I frantically called around to any friends, or even acquaintances who could be interested in taking an open air flight high above Atlanta with me. Apparently I know quite a few who suffer from mild Acrophobia. I finally convinced my friend Chris to join me in the skies and with his knowledge of aircraft and daredevil enthusiasm, he turned out to be the best candidate. So off we went on a frigid Day Three Hundred Forty-One to ride in a biplane.

It was incredibly cold on that Sunday morning. Driving back from Athens, I received a call from the pilot himself, asking if I wanted to reschedule. Everyone else who had booked for the day had opted out due to the near freezing temperatures. I called Chris to see if he felt the same way as the pilot, but fortunately, he was ready as much as I, so we assured the captain we would bundle up tight and be there at two o’clock.

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If you live in or near Atlanta and have visited the 57th Fighter Group, you’ve probably seen the yellow double winged plane posted outside of the restaurant. This is where Biplanes Over Atlanta set up its headquarters for possible passengers. Some people pay to fly after visiting the restaurant, others (like me) plan a little more in advance. I think either option was viable on the windy day of cancellations.

Once Chris and I walked into the restaurant, in fifteen layers each, we met up with the biplane coordinator and sat to fill out (yet another) waiver. She told us Captain Jeff Clark would be our pilot and described what we would see and how long we’d be in the air (about fifteen minutes). The lady talked about the plane and asked if we had any questions. Chris asked about the plane’s manufacturer, when it was built, and generally showed a deep knowledge and curiosity. Most of the names and numbers and dates washed over my head. I was dreaming of open air and awesome views.

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Then it was time to board. Captain Jeff quickly demonstrated how we were to climb into the compact space in the front of the plane. “Step here, never here. Hold here, but not here.” Chris climbed in first and I followed, sucking in all my breath in order to squeeze in. The side door  squashed into my shoulder, but with my giant down parka I was well cushioned.

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We maneurved around to put on the headsets and took turns adjusting the volume while the pilot took his position in the hole directly behind us. I gripped my camera on my lap, strap tightly wound around my wrist as we began to move forward. I couldn’t see where we were going, so contented myself looking through the hazy glass to my left. I had a brief flashback to steering a plane myself earlier in the year. This was much less stressful, but also one hell of a lot colder, especially as we picked up speed.

And then before I knew it, we were airborne, the cars and buildings on the ground growing smaller and smaller until I felt like I was looking down upon metro Atlanta in miniature. It’s my favorite part of any flight.

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There wasn’t much talking; the wind made far too much noise for us to hear anything through our headsets, although occasionally I caught a bit of Captain Jeff’s descriptions. “There’s Stone Mountain” he crackled. I looked over through the haze of the afternoon and could barely make out a gray lump in the distance. That’s Stone Mountain, alright.

We flew over downtown as I tried to take a few photographs. I had brought my point and shoot with its wrist strap but found that I enjoyed using my iPhone better. However, my phone didn’t have a strap. In order to get a clear shot I had to raise the device above the fogged window protecting me from the outside wind which was strong enough to jerk the hands holding the phone. I had a quick flash of saying so long to my phone as it was wrenched out of my hands, but through brute strength and determination I was able to hang on. The feeling in my gut remained for a couple seconds, that twisted sensation you get when you lean too far over the edge of a railing and see the ground coming up from below. A healthy edge of vertigo to keep you sane.

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Before too long we were circling back to the Peachtree-Dekalb Airport. The buildings and trees and cars became larger and larger as we neared until finally everything was eye-level again and the wheels of the plane touched the runway. We taxied back to the displayed parking in front of the 57th Fighter Group and reverse climbed our way back out of the plane. Reverse climbing your way out of a plane is immensely more difficult than climbing in. It took me a few tries, and I nearly ended up doing the splits on the bright yellow wing, but I made it to solid ground alright. There was the typical (for me) awkward tip exchange and then Chris and I went back inside to collect whatever belongings we had left, waiting just until people were out of reach to declare (with emphasis),” “That was Awesome!”

We watched the next people go through the motions of climbing into the plane and take off before we headed back to the car. I remembered driving back home after I had taken a flight lesson on Day 202 and how strange it felt to be on the ground. It was like walking across the gym after spending a good amount of time on the treadmill. Except instead of gliding across a room full of sweaty people, I was gliding down Clairmont Rd, effortlessly changing lanes and hovering just slightly over the road. So it felt.

While I still don’t think piloting a plane myself is a goal I will achieve in my lifetime, I certainly wouldn’t say no to another trip in either a biplane or a single engine two seater. Especially because I can always have the window seat.

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