Most little boys dream of being astronauts, fighter pilots, or something else dangerous and romantic. And at that age we all think that we had the potential to be great at it, and we were told we did. As these boys become men they claim to abandon such dreams, although deep down without ever admitting it they still think that given the opportunity they would have been the real life hero they had seen in the movie. I was one of these very boys that has since become an adult or at least one in the eyes of the law. I had the dreams, I had the overly technical world war two flight simulators, and I thought I had what it would take to be an ace fighter pilot.
In the fall of 2010 my friend Jared was going through the process of doing his commercial pilots license, and I had been up for several flights. All of which were very scenic but otherwise uneventful. Being a ‘veteran’ I begged Jared to take me up to practice emergency manoeuvres such as: stalls, spins, and steep turns. I was genuinely excited to live out my childhood dream. I should have stayed at home on the ground where I was safe.
Jared was happy to have the company, and agreed to take me up. The flight and did not start well. We banked we turned, and my stomach did not agree with the choice of manoeuvres. My insides felt heavy as if half full of gravel. My face felt like it was melting or sagging off the bones. All in all, my first acrobatic flight manoeuvre was not boding well for my dogfighting career. Worse yet my first stunt flying was the equivalent to changing lanes in a car quickly on the highway.
At this point I informed the pilot that things in my digestive track were not agreeing with our flight plan. Unfortunately, I had signed on for the aerial manoeuvre flight and I was in it for the long haul. Jared was just weeks away from his Commercial pilots license and the entire purpose of this flight was to practice this stuff and brush with death of course. I was told exactly what I was getting myself into. I really had no excuse, I got what I wanted. The worst was yet to come.
The most technical and I suppose theatrical part of the afternoons flight was next in the program. This involved stalling the plane at four thousand feet which would then transition into a completely vertical diving spin. Throughout my twenty five years to date action movies and video games had conditioned me to think this was not only awesome but that I was completely prepared for this. We’ve all seen the hero put the plane into a full dive to put out an engine fire, evade a nazi and any guy who doesn’t entertain the fantasy for even a moment is either a liar or boring. I wanted this desperately, if not for the pure entertainment of it then to see if I had ‘the right stuff’. It would turn that I am in fact not in possession of the right stuff. Not only do I not have the right stuff, but I have an abundance of the wrong stuff. In the weeks up to this moment I had begged Jared to take me up to do spins, now I was begging to be spared from it.
Jared heard what I had to say and to my dismay had only one thing to say in response, “let’s just try one”. The plane leaned back, climbed and slowed down with every passing second. Then there was nothing, the engine was barely rumbling, we were not moving, we were dead in the air. In that instant I braced my right hand against the dash, my left hand against the ceiling and Jared told me calmly, “Don’t touch ANY of the controls.” At this point my digestive calamity began and for the next eight seconds my hands did not move from where I had placed them.
The plane ceased to fly and began it’s transition from flight to falling. The horizon dropped from view and the windscreen was filled with only the earth thousands of feet below and it was spinning. Our view was now entirely of a spinning image of the surface of the earth. If we had cross hairs they would be centered directly on a house that was below us, and at this point more than anything I desperately wanted to be in that house and not spinning, airborne or diving out of the sky. The aerial spin which we were now in is basically a user operated roller coaster that you can die on. Although I can honestly say there was no point at which I was genuinely scared of anything aside from the vomit that I was on the verge of evacuating all over the cockpit window. In the event of this we might have actually died a very disgusting and embarrassing death, and so we tumbled from the clouds.
If this was not enough to push me over the edge, then pulling out of a dive pushed me off it while holding a cinder block. All colour drained from my face and I felt as physically ill as possible without having a horrific tropical fever. At this point I put my foot firmly down that all aerial stunts for the day were concluded. Jared did not argue with me or the sweat drenching my face and hair.
Unfortunately the flight, or torture, was still far from over. I was hanging my arm out the window meditating and refusing to be sick. The threat of vomit was particularly dangerous since the wool sweater I was wearing was dry clean only. With this in mind I asked for a sick bag before we even began our practice emergency landing.
Having survived the spinning portion of the flight Jared then chose his field for a mach emergency landing and rattled off over the mic his practice commentary. What he did not mention was that his co-pilot was dangerously close to rendering the dashboard of the plane inoperable. We slowed, banked and descended into our practice emergency approach. If it meant the end of my suffering I probably would have welcomed a crash landing. I was given no say in the matter fortunately. Practice complete Jared throttled up and the engine and I groaned as we climbed and made our way back to the actual landing strip where the suffering would end.
My aerial nightmare was brought to an end after two attempts at emergency landings on the airfield. I have never been so grateful for asphalt as when I got out of that plane. I lied down and was enjoyed my victory over motion sickness. I have never felt ill in a plane until then, but I also had only ever flown in giant cruise ships in the sky. I learned a painful, embarrassing and emasculating lesson, but I did learn it without ruining a sweater in the process. Walking away from it I take comfort knowing that many people have similar delusions and come to similar realizations. I would even wager that everyone who’s ever watched Top gun has always fantasized that they had the chops to be maverick, myself included. As it would turn out I don’t even have the guts to be goose. Childhood dreams exist now only to be shattered.