Winged Thoughts, to Dreams, to Reality: Location, Location, Location
By, Tracey Steele, aviation writer
My Out-of-the-Cockpit-and-Onto-the-Wings Experience Extraordinaire began with my annual dilemma: What to do to celebrate my Next Birthday? I believe that Being Born is a Big Deal. At the age of 30, after some less than auspicious celebrations in the past, I decided to take responsibility for my own birthday partying and celebrating. You know, if you want something done right…
Therefore, my B-Day Adventures were born. Every year, I search for a new adventure, something that is exciting and unusual, something that entices my inner being. I seek Adventures that will give my five senses a Booster Shot of Awe and a Jolt of Joy! The plotting and planning of the next B-Day Adventure begins in the fall, many months before the event, just in case travel plans, immunizations et al need to be secured. No year is better than another, as all have even and equal footing and fabulousness for Adventure! A Birthday is grand whether it is an odd number, or an even number. My birthdays have nothing to do with cake, candles or restaurants. My birthday parties are Adventures, and my Adventures are Parties. My B-Day Adventures are quickies that Buoy the Soul and Balance My Spirit. My B-Day Adventures do not involve a lifestyle change, with mandatory time-management preparation (i.e. running a marathon, or earning a Pilot’s license). Heavy lifting can be involved, but straining under the weight of extensive preparation is not penciled in.
With those criteria, I begin the earnest Adventure musing, scouring and searching.
I always check Adventure websites to see what new endeavor of creativity and imagination has been developed or discovered in the previous year.
Immediately, I located a local interest called “Plunge Chicago,” which involved rappelling 27 stories (278 feet) down the outside of a Chicago skyscraper. That seemed like fun, but maybe more of a weekend what’s-happening-in-my-Windy-City event, not quite B-Day Adventure substance.
I continued searching. By the year of my 2012 Birthday, I had already been whitewater kayaking, soared in high performance gliders, flown a jet fighter, bungee jumped off a bridge, flown a tandem hang glider, ridden in a 200mph Indy race car and tandem skydived nine times.
(Skydiving is always my backup plan; it’s delightful and Do-Able, and a guaranteed bet of Buoyancy & Laughter!)
So, amidst the scouring, musing and surfing, with the search term being “Adventures,” I was guided to the CNN Travel website, and the article, “Thrill Seeker’s Bucket List: 50 Experiences to Try Before You Die” http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/play/50-thrilling-experiences-116798?page=0,4.
Now, I don’t lay claim or ownership to a Bucket List. A Bucket List implies Death or the Sands of Time Running Out while you wrestle with the routines of life. For many, a Bucket List contains only things that are outside of their comfort zone, or, in fact, those that transform and become their Comfort Zone once they venture within them. I prefer my list of longings to be a Life List, and since I try to expand my mind every year to include that which I desire to achieve, there is in fact no actual list.
But in CNN’s Bucket List article, I found, at #43, my Goal for 2012, my Balls-to-the-Wall Freedom of Flight Adventure: Walk A Wing, United Kingdom. Upon merely reading the short description, and seeing a photo of a person atop the wings, I had tunnel-vision for Wingwalking.
I contacted the company in England, inquired about the process, and decided I wanted to do it, but I wondered where in the USA could this be accomplished? With all of the courageousness that is ever-present within the US, maybe I would not have to cross-the-pond to Walk the Wing!
Besides, in England they would strap me into a brace atop the wing and go fly, with no aerobatics, then land with me still on the wing. Though that would certainly give me the unobstructed view I wanted, with nothing to separate me from feeling the flows and rushes of air, it wasn’t exactly Wingwalking—more like Wing Riding. I wanted to start out in the cockpit, get out and walk the wing, literally. I wanted to fly aerobatics outside of the aircraft!
So I kept looking. My heartbeat was set in Wingwalk-Mode, and that is what I wanted to do—what I was going to do.
In mid-July 2011 I joined Facebook, and a few months later, as I began to create albums from my previous B-Day Adventures, I happily located Rich Perkins, the Pilot of the L-39 jet that I experienced for my B-day adventure in 2008, for my 45th B-Day! There he was standing beside the L-39, Hooray! Flying with him was an Extraordinary Feat of Amazement, and forever labeled him in my mind as the Milky Way Galaxy’s Most Phenomenal Pilot! Nothing can compare!
I sent him a Friend Request, and he accepted. Our rapport was instantaneous and ideal—just as it had been when I flew with him. Months later, once I began looking for B-Day Adventures, and fixated on WingWalking, I realized Rich could help. Since his pioneer footsteps in Aviation are the ladders that others have followed to accomplish their Missions in Flying, I knew he would be in-the-know of what is available for the opportunity to Wingwalk. Besides, Rich is a well known airshow pilot, flying the Firecat Jet nationwide. He’s an airshow insider, and he knows all the wingwalkers in the airshow industry personally.
Rich knows I like to participate, and I Like Faster, Higher, Greater, Grander: Zenith Activities. I do, and will always, trust him, as he knows how I like my Skies! Peaceful patterns will bring me to the table, but ferocious fun keeps my attention! All done with Safety foremost in mind, of course. Well, with at least some safety in mind…Okay, with some risk management in mind, and no desire to die.
Whatever Rich recommended, I knew for a fact, that I would Trust him. He pays attention to all nuances, those that are obvious, and those that are not. Trained minds have a mastery that I Respect, and, I Trust, Respect and Appreciate Rich’s judgment.
We had traded some emails, but when I realized Rich was the key to my adventure, I called him. As it turned out, Rich was attending the International Council of Airshows Convention in Las Vegas—the one and only, once a year trade show for airshows, so my timing was perfect.
Rich conferred with some of his wingwalker friends at ICAS and, in short order, opened up the path to my Wingwalking Adventure. He pointed me to Lee Oman Airshows via his contacts Marge Stivers and Hartley Folstad of the sensational Silverwings Wingwalking.
During the following weeks I researched every vowel, word, comma, and period of the sentences that he shared with me. Then I reached out to contact Lee Oman. Lee is a legendary wingwalker, performing unbelievable stunts like hanging from the landing gear of an airplane and truly roaming the aircraft in flight. Lee’s wife, Marion Wagner, is now the wingwalker of the duo, and Lee is the pilot of a powerful, classic Stearman biplane.
My mind was captivated by the video footage of Marion’s wingwalk performances. I dreamed of literally following in her footsteps on the wings of that Stearman, emulating her hand grabs and moves and body positioning.
I had no idea what the training would be like. How high I would be flying? How fast? Would it be cold? What to wear? Footwear? Gloves? Goggles? The list kept growing and growing, especially in the wee hours of an Aerobatic Dreamer!!
Since Rich is a creative craftsman in Aerobatics, he and I viewed the videos on line—me in frosty Chicago, and him in sunny California–and he explained the various maneuvers. The Aerobatics excited me, per usual. Yes, I wanted to wingwalk, but the Aerobatics are the Why and the What and the Desired Effect that led me to select this Adventure. I wanted the magnificence of flying in all dimensions, and all degrees of Freedom.
Lee responded to my inquiry and described the training in great detail, but it boiled down to one full day of training on the top wing, then a flight, then a second full day of training on the bottom wing and a flight. He was very matter of fact. I was in a state of Complete Marvel! I could do this!
There’s a moment when you figure out that your dream is ACTUALLY attainable. From then on your mindset has to begin to shut out exterior commotion, and you develop tunnel-vision of how to achieve the Stage of Supernova Achievement! Rich calls this compartmentalization and focus. I didn’t know then how important those words would become and how frequently we would use them.
Lee and I decided upon the month of June—mostly based on weather (and coincidentally my birthday)–which gave me many months to think about what I was getting my self into. So I started T-H-I-N-K-I-N-G….. Sometimes, for some people, that’s not such a good thing. But for me, the more I thought about it, the more I liked—no, loved—the idea of roaming the wings of that big beautiful Stearman and flying aerobatics out on the edge, literally. I loved, loved, loved it!
I was going to be a Wing Walker……..!!!
By, Tracey Steele, aviation writer
Thus Tracey will be looking skyward forever, for she has been there and shall always long to return!