Keith Lawrence, reporter for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
They asked me last week if I would like to ride along in the back seat of one of the Lima Lima Flight Team’s planes while they practiced for the Owensboro Air Show. Heck, yeah! Who wouldn’t?
I’ve ridden in a hot-air balloon, an open-door Huey helicopter and a fire-spotter plane. Why not a stunt plane too?
But I wasn’t really prepared for the moment when Steve “Hoss” Smith, the pilot I was to ride with, handed me a parachute. I always assume that planes aren’t going to crash. It gives me a certain peace of mind. But a parachute? That implies that it might.
Back in 1999, during a practice session, two Lima Lima planes touched wings and one plane crashed, killing the pilot.
I didn’t know that when I was climbing into the Beech T-34 Mentor behind Smith. Anyway, Smith helped me into the parachute, which was heavier than I expected. I climbed on the wing and hoisted myself into the back seat. Then, he helped get me buckled in.
If we have to bail, he said, slide the canopy open, remove your headphones, unbuckle the seat belt, stand up, climb onto the side of the plane and jump past the wing. While the plane is plummeting to earth. Yeah, that’s gonna happen. I am really that coordinated.
Unless that plane is 10 miles up, it’s gonna be buried in a cornfield by the time I’m ready to jump. Just don’t crash, I said.
We flew over Owensboro in formation. It was about like flying in any small plane. Except you rarely look out and see another plane 10 feet away. Then, we crossed the river to Spencer County. “We’re gonna chase tail,” Smith said. I grinned. Suddenly, the plane banked sharply to the right and then went into a steep, almost vertical, climb — chasing the tail of the plane in front of it. My grin slid back to my ears and every wrinkle on my face smoothed out as the force of gravity doubled and tripled. Then, I found myself looking up at an Indiana field, the sky, an Indiana field and the sky again. A bit disorienting, to say the least. Especially when you’re trying to take notes.
I wrote something that looks like it might have come from an Egyptian pyramid. I have no idea what it’s supposed to say. Probably something like, “Wow, that was fun! Let’s do it again!”