Back in the late 80's, I had the opportunity to experience the National Air Races in Reno, NV up close and personal. It was the thrill of a lifetime - even more so for me in that I am uneasy about flying.
I was dating a fellow, John Slack, who's step father, Lyle Shelton was the pilot for the Rare Bear, a vintage world world II plane, competing in the races. It was a fine year for Lyle and the entire team of the Rare Bear, as Lyle brought home the gold that year.
Hearing the tragic news out of Reno last night, I was suddenly catapulted back to the late 80s and the stunning memory of that thrilling week in mid September. The week I spent in Reno was a thrill a minute. There was the very distinctive smell of the jet fuel, the noise of the engines, the buzz, as the planes made the laps above the crowds, and the cheer of the spectators as the planes whizzed by. Consider it similar to the Indy 500, but airborne.
The people that attend these events are unique. Being in the pits was like no other experience I have ever had. I met John Candy that year. He was an airplane aficionado. You can see the wives and girlfriends of the pilots and staff sitting in lawn chairs, or atop large trailers; all cheering on their designated plane. You see the crews, buzzing around the pits, talking all things airplane. Large propellers, powerful engines, trim and sleek planes, buffed to a crystal clear reflection - it can be mesmerizing! I was fortunate enough to even meet the pilots of the world famous Thunderbirds.
By the end of one week, I was hooked. While I still have a strong fear of being in a plane, I can't imagine anything more thrilling than being behind the controls of a world war II plane, soaring high above a cheering crowd, punching through a piercing blue sky on a warm fall day. Some people, like myself, can only be a spectator on the ground, but lucky are those men who take to the skies and test the limits of man and God.
God's speed to those who lost their lives on September 16, 2011 and to Pilot Leeward, and the Galloping Ghost, who appears to have had enough control over his plane to steer it partially clear of what might have become an overwhelming tragedy for those spectators on the ground.
“When once you have tasted flight you will always walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward: for there you have been and there you will always be.” Henry Van Dyke