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A Writer’s Nirvana and Aerobatics

May 19, 2013

I am sitting on the deck of the Singer Island Hilton under a brilliant full moon and gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean bathed in moonlight. A warm sea breeze caresses my skin. A glass of Merlot, a perfectly cooked rib-eye steak smothered in a delicious mushroom demi-glace, and a great guitar player add to the creative ambiance. This is my writer’s nirvana. Memories of aerobatic lessons flood my mind.

My ex wasn’t the best husband in the world, but he was one hell of an aerobatic pilot. We both flew jet airliners for a living. Our home was on a grass-strip runway. Our favorite toy was a 1947 Bücker Jungmann biplane. The German antique aircraft was fully aerobatic. I wanted to learn how to do all the stunts I’d seen at air shows.

My problem was I have a fear of falling. Most people call it a fear of heights, but it’s really a fear of falling off high places. The Bücker had an open cockpit. Even though I was securely strapped into a five-point harness and wearing a parachute, the powerful negative “G” pull during an inverted maneuver made me feel like I was being pulled out of the airplane. Irrational fear made me grip the steel-tube fuselage rail like my life depended on it. So, of course, my ex insisted that I fly inverted straight and level and hold my hands over my head. I did it, but the fear gave me extreme tunnel vision.

He said, “Keep the ridge line on your left and the valley on your right.”

I said, “All I can see is a dark tunnel with the nose of the aircraft at the end. No freaking ridges. No freaking valley. My eyes feel like they’re about to pop out of my head. Screw this! I’m rolling right side up.”

He said, “You need a distraction.”

He was seated directly behind me. I felt him reach into the narrow space on either side of my seat and pull my belts extra tight. Whenever he did that, something scary always followed.

What followed that time was a violent maneuver called a Lomcovák. The stunt was invented by an insane Czech with a death wish. It started with a violent snap roll that flowed into an end over end forward tumble ending in an inverted spin. I was confident the wings and tail would remain attached to the German-engineered biplane. I was not so sure about me.

My ex assured me his slow-motion version of the Lomcovák was tame and fun. The only difference with his kinder and gentler version was the snap roll didn’t bang my head into the side rail hard enough to produce a bruise. Not fun.

I eventually learned how to do what I considered to be the fun stunts, but I never mastered the roll on top of a loop. My main clue that I had messed up the timing and something bad was about to happen was my ex laughing. He would chuckle first. All-out laughter always accompanied our entry into an inverted spin. I failed to see the humor. We’re divorced now.

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