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Editor's column: This here is your chute

July 10, 2010
Marshall Independent

As I was strapped into the aircraft and fitted with my parachute (gotta be honest, never, ever thought I'd say that) many thoughts raced through my mind. I thought about my family, who would take care of my daughter if anything happened? Thought about my time on earth. Have I accomplished enough? Have I left a legacy? How will I be remembered? would there be a good turnout at my funeral? What is my relationship with God? Is there a heaven? Team Jacob or Team Edward?

When I got off the plane about 20 minutes later, I had a renewed sense of appreciation for the smallest of things. And everything became clear: Team Edward. Definitely Team Edward.

Friday afternoon found me about 1,000 feet above ground, travelling about 200 mph in a T28 A Model military plane, the exact one that you will find on display at this weekend's SkyFest, a new celebration in Marshall that includes stunt flying, wing walking and anything else you could imagine from an air show. The 1,300 horsepower T28, a massive, beast of a plane, was a bit intimidating and overwhelming when I stood next to it, realizing that in a matter of minutes I would become one with it - that's how tight they strap you in. The T28 I was tucked into rolled off the assembly line in 1950 and was used as an advanced trainer in the military.

As the title indicates, a lot of the action at SkyFest will take place off the ground. And Friday, I got the chance to experience what that action is like from a sweet back-row seat.

It wasn't the first time I had flown in a plane. It was, however, the first time I did it anticipating nausea. It was also the first time I had to get strapped in - not buckled up, strapped in. First time I was told what to pull to engage my parachute, too.

This was no ordinary flight.

I prepared for my airborne journey the same way one would going into surgery. I didn't bother eating Thursday night. What's the point? The mere mention of the word "stunt" got me to thinking that anything I swallowed had a 50-50 chance of making a return trip and exiting my body.

My pilot/temporary guardian angel Phil Petrick's pre-flight check included some minor oil work and a routine systems check. MY pre-flight check included hugging my daughter good-bye, gum, and signing off on my will. This is what you do when you're dealing with the unexpected.

As it turned out, I had overanalyzed everything. It was a smooth flight, and we were never upside down, although when Phil, who restored the aircraft himself, made a couple of sharp turns over the skies of Marshall, I did get a tad squeamish. Still, there were no moments when I regretted not sneaking a barf bag into the cockpit with me. Lucky for me. Lucky for Phil.

Of course I was flying with someone who has been piloting planes about as long as I've been alive. Phil runs his own fixed-based airport out of Sidney, Mont., and has done crop dusting, freight delivery for UPS and, of course, air show performances. For him, taking me up for a couple of laps above Marshall is akin to driving a car around the block. And, thankfully, he was kind enough to avoid saying things like, "This old girl still has something left in her," before we took off.

It's not every day a person gets a chance to ride in an Air Force aircraft and soar above a city for 20 minutes on this side of the clouds where you can see just about anything. Everything looks different from above - buildings, fields, golf courses, swimming pools. Construction on Minnesota Highway 23 doesn't even look so bad from 1,000 feet.

And the best part, I never had to use my chute.



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