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06/24/2014

The struggle to go coward at 2,500 feet in a Red Bull aerobatic plane

IMG_0514FORT WORTH, Texas - Having gone sky diving, run with the bulls in Pamplona, parasailed, surfed, rappelled down a pair of buildings in Fort Worth, willingly lowered myself into the waters on The Great Barrier Reef in full view of a shark just off the stern, signing up for a ride in a Red Bull aerobatic plane seemed like a great idea.

That was last Monday, when I eagerly agreed to a ride with veteran pilot Kirby Chambliss at Alliance Aiport.

The Red Bull air race crew, which will have a Red Bull Air Race on September 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, was doing some promotional work and invited members of the media for a ride in one of the planes. And on Monday, I was excited about going.

On Tuesday night, when I learned a friend had died, my excitement was muted. Less than a day later, I learned another friend needed open heart surgery.

By Thursday morning, the thought of doing some crazy plane ride was no longer intoxicating. I pressed on, and when I turned the corner into the hanger at Alliance Airport to see a glorified motorcylce with wings my interest plummeted down to "No bleeping way."

IMG_0518Nonetheless, this was not going to be an every day chance so I pressed on despite the growing anxiety in my stomach. After signing away my life on some "You can't/won't sue us" forms, I met the pilot, veteran Kirby Chambliss, and was outfitted for the ride.

I put myself in the plane, where my seat was in front of Chambliss, and was given a quick tour of this tiny plane complete with instructions should we need to bail. Because I'm sure that would have gone well.

We taxied down the runway. The propellers blarred, I could hear Chambliss in my headset continually reassure me about his abilities, experiences, and strength of this mini plane. Chambliss is probably unaware that when you type in his name on YouTube.com the second option that pops is "Kirby Chambliss crash" (not kidding).

He insisted we were going to be fine, and this was going to be a fun ride. At this point, despite my stomach's increased persistence that this was not a good idea, to be in a giant gas can with wings at 3,000 feet was cool. 

IMG_0521Kirby insisted we would do whatever I was comfortable with, and that we would begin easy. The plane would go about 150 m.p.h., and, Kirby said, it is "stronger than bricks." My thought was, "How strong are bricks when they crash into other bricks at 3,000?"

Directly beneath my feet on the plane was clear "glass" so I could see down to the ground. How fun. This was just about the same spot, in 1996, I did my tandem skydive from 13,000. This should not be a problem.

We had a 5 mile ride due west before we would arrive in the proper air space to do a routine that consisted of ... dives, nose over tail loops, barrell rolls, side to sides, etc.

The first trick we were going to do was go upside down to make sure my straps were tight, which given how I felt at this point I was OK if my blood circulation ceased. Kirby insisted it was going to be so smooth and so gentle water would not fall out of glass.

No mention of how projectile vomit would do. Good thing there were barf bags right in front of me.

"One mile and we'll start," Kirby said.

That meant about 30 seconds, and ...

"Kirby," I said, "I gotta' tell you - I'm not feelin' this at all."
"It's OK. You're going to be fine," he told me. "It's like a roller coaster, without the tracks. Do you like roller coasters?"
"Not really," I said.
"This is not for you," he said. "Let's just go for a ride."

The ride was cool, the view was pretty, but never has chickening out felt so good, or fulfilling. Maybe it is age, what had happened with my friends, or another unknown factor but the thrill of a lifetime on this day just was none too appealing. 

The ride would have made for an even better story, but ... maybe next time. 

  

 

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