The Dream of Flight Continues...
I went to an EAA Fly-In with my son today. We noticed a sign that read:
FLY IN AN ANTIQUE BIPLANE! $60.
I looked at my son. My son looked at me.
Minutes later, we were strapped into the front seat of a radial-engined biplane of 1920s vintage, rolling onto the duty runway and grinning like a couple of mischievous scoolboys on a lark. The radial engine chugged and purred in that manner for which I dearly love radial engines. As we lined up, the pilot opened up the throttle. The purr changed to a roar and away we went. Suddenly, we were aloft and climbing into a clear summer sky. The wind sang through the struts and wires, buffeting my ears and tugging at the sleeves of my tee shirt.
I settled into my seat and rested my arms on the edges of the cockpit, luxuriating in the whole sensorium of this trip back in time to when flight was still a very dangerous and arcane craft. The slipstream combed back the hair on my arms, a quite pleasant sensation. My olfactory senses were filled with the heady melange of rubber, canvas doping, oil, high-octane avgas exhaust, and of fresh-cut fields. The sky was hazy above but clear below.
The pilot began gently turning, banking, climbing and diving, translating the laws of physics into a sensory playground. I felt that odd, ticklish feeling in my abdomen with the change from positive to negative Gs, as if I was going over the apex on a rollercoaster. The pilot banked steeply over the fields below, allowing us to fully appreciate the wonderful view afforded by an open cockpit.
I was in heaven.
I had been taking videos the entire time. I finally swung around around as the pilot's headphone-ensconsed head filled the viewfinder, he gave me a big grin and a thumbs up. He knew what we were feeling, and his grin told me he felt that way too. I briefly envied him for having the opportunity to do this all the time.
The flight lasted longer than usual- almost an hour- because the runway was clogged with other traffic. Dang.
Our landing was so gentle that the only way I knew we were down was by the brief screech of the tires as they made contact with the abrasive, inflexible earth. We taxied back to the grassy field and the engine coughed and chugged to a halt. Slowly and with great reluctance, we climbed out of the cockpit. I thanked the pilot for the experience, my jaw aching from the grin that seemed to have taken permanent residence on my face.
I sighed, preparing to re-enter the my mundane, earthbound world. Then, as I turned to walk away from the vintage aircraft, I saw it.
The Life Flight helicopter swooped into view, descended, swung around sharply, and landed with a kind of flair that seemed to say, "Ha. Look at that."
My heart went thumpity-thump. I looked at my son. My son looked at me.
By the time we got to the helicopter, the pilot had walked away to a nearby Honey Bucket. The flight nurses were facing away from me. One of them removed her helmet, revealing the page-bobbed, flaming red hair of my dear friend Nurse Dynamite. She gave me a big hug and shrieked, "Ahh! There you are, my darling!" She turned and gave my son an equally rib-crushing hug and said, "Boy, you are about ten feet taller than the last time I saw you!"
"I hear you will soon be joining us." she said with a conspiratorial smile.
"I'm thinking about it," I said sheepishly.
"Thinking about it!?" she said.
"Have you ever sat in one of these beasts?"
"Come along," Nurse Dynamite chided as she took my hand and pulled me along. "I shall help you to make up your mind." I felt like an errant schoolboy on his way to the dunce's chair. She led me to the door, pointed inside the helicopter, and commanded, "Park it right there, sweetheart."
I looked at her with a "Can I do this, really?" look. She smiled impishly and pointed again. I clambered into the cramped, narrow seat and surveyed the surroundings.
Holy CRAP, it is tight in here, I thought. I noticed the stretcher. It was locked onto a kind of trolley. The foot was tucked into the left front cockpit next to the pilot's seat. The head was parked neatly between two narrow forward-facing seats bolted to the after bulkhead of the cabin. I looked at Nurse Dynamite and said, "This doesn't look like a therapeutic environment. You can't reach the whole patient."
Nurse Dynamite cocked her head and smiled, saying, "Think about it. In a major trauma, we are interested in everything from the waist up because that's where all the vital organs are, and that's what we are trying to save."
"Oh, that makes sense."
"On the other hand, you can see how difficult starting an IV can be."
I looked again at the cramped quarters. "Yes, I can."
"But you can also see how the seats are situated perfectly for dropping an endotracheal tube."
I looked again and said, "Of course. Well, now it makes perfect sense. It's all ABCs, after all, isn't it?"
"Yep! So what are you waiting for?"
"Experience. I need a couple more years in the ER."
"We'll be waiting."
I looked down at Nurse Dynamite's helmet. I noticed a huge sticker of that cartoon bunny smiling and pointing at its butt. That figures, I thought, and I chuckled.
Suddenly, a childlike excitement overcame me, and I hurriedly asked, "Will I have to buy my own helmet?"
"Naw! They give you one. But you have to put something on it," she answered mischievously. "Like a nickname or something."
"That's easy," My son snorted. "Call him 'Duke'."
Nurse Dynamite's jaw dropped and she looked at me with a shocked expression. "Duke!?"
"Yeah, like John Wayne. You know, The Duke," my son explained. "Dad loves John Wayne."
"How perfect!" Nurse Dynamite exclaimed, her voice squeaking, as she clasped her hands onto my arms. "Duke!"
I blushed. I really blushed. I smiled and surreptitiously shot my son an "I'm gonna kill you" look. He laughed, of course.
The pilot broke our reverie by jogging to the helicopter, stuffing himself into the cockpit, and flipping switches.
"Whoops! Gotta go, darling!" Nurse Dynamite said as she pulled on her helmet with the "You smell like butt" sticker on it. She gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek, and did the same for my son, telling him, "Give your mom my love, will ya?"
The boy nodded.
"See ya, Duke!"
"See ya, firecracker," I answered with a pat on her helmeted head, and we dashed out of the landing area. The hatch shut with a thump. The Agusta wound up quickly, its turbine whining. The rotors bit with their chest-thumping thrum. The helicopter lifted off and sped into the distance.
I saw myself there, with more clarity than ever I had before.