Vroom! Babababababababababa Vroom! The sleek red Pitts stunt plane’s engine fired up, and before I knew it we started slowly rolling down the thin black stretch of taxiway toward the runway. At the controls was experienced stunt pilot Spencer Suderman, and I was in the front passenger seat! It was a warm and sunny California day, and the deep blue sky starkly contrasted the sea of farmland around us. We were at a small airport in Madera, CA, otherwise known as the middle of nowhere.
It was the 2010 Madera Air Show, which was reason that Spencer, my dad, and I were at Madera. They were handing out free samples of jelly beans, courtesy of Jelly Belly®, to the spectators. The small, white packages filled with those heavenly beans were tempting me into grabbing a handful. As I was about 11 at the time, I was not very wise and did not have the most common sense. Accordingly, I was also in love with jelly beans. Something about the succulent, juicy, multicolored beans made my mouth water at the thought of the sweet and sour flavors seeping out to meet my waiting taste buds.
My pre-teen urge for candy conflicted painfully with my more mature common sense. I knew that I was going for an aerobatic flight later, but the colorful and delicious-looking jelly beans just looked so good! Besides, one packet wouldn’t kill me. Boy was I wrong.
Two hours and hundreds of jelly beans later, we were in the startup area checking our magnetos right before takeoff. The 300+ horsepower Lycoming IO-540 engine was screaming at us, and the brakes begging to be let loose. I was beginning to feel queasy, as I had given in to my cravings and devoured countless decadent beans of goodness. However, now I was afraid that they would come back up like beans outta hell, and ruin my otherwise excellent flight.
Just then, Spencer released the brakes and the plane shot forward like a rocket. The propeller ate up the tarmac as we gained speed, and the lines on the blacktop just looked like dots as we accelerated beyond comprehension. My hands were clenched tightly in a death grip around the metal bars surrounding me in the cockpit. Across the field, the telephone poles looked like a picket fence. By now we were about 500 feet above the endless sea of farms that stretched far beyond the horizon. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but at some point I’m sure Spencer asked me if I wanted to do some aerobatics, to which I naturally replied “Of Course!”
We started off, as I remember, with some standard aileron rolls, and then it was my turn to fly. Spencer had me do some wide angle turns and also some tight, knife-edge turns. It’s the oddest feeling; doing steep turns in an aircraft. You feel as if you’re on a magic carpet, and if you turn too steeply you’ll fall off and plummet toward the ground so far below. Even though it’s impossible to fall out of an airplane when the canopy is closed, the cockpit is sealed, and you’re all belted in, you just get that instinctive feeling of mortal danger. Despite my entire body screaming for me not to pitch the airplane, I still did, to my surprised enjoyment. Once you understand that you are in complete control of this mighty aerial machine, the scary feeling of falling to your doom disappears, and that’s when you can begin to have fun. We did turns of all pitches and angles, some loops, hammerheads, and more.
Hammerheads were, and still are, my favorite aerobatic maneuver. You start off going straight up, but once the plane stalls out and can’t continue flying anymore, there’s this magical moment where the plane hangs on its propeller and seems to kiss the heavens themselves. It only lasts a split second, but it feels like you’re suspended in time and space. But when it’s over, it’s definitely over. You kick left or right on the rudder and the plane swings over and plummets at an alarming rate. You can do rolls on the way down, and once the plane decides to start flying again, or you get low enough to the ground, you pull up on the control stick and get pushed back into your seat as your body weight increases by two or three times its normal weight. It’s simply amazing; the feeling of weightlessness as you wait for the plane to begin falling. It’s as if you are exempt to the laws of space, time, and gravity; as if you don’t have to adhere to the laws of physics.
However, my stomach was beginning to get anxious. All those jelly beans were getting restless, and that was not a good thing considering I was doing gut-wrenching aerobatics high over the plains of the San Joaquin Valley. I sheepishly told Spencer how I felt, and he seemed to understand. We started to turn back, but even though my stomach was done doing aerobatics, I wasn’t. I was still looking for some thrills, and asked Spencer if we could maybe do one more loop. He agreed, and the world became inverted one more time as we ascended through wispy white clouds.
We slowly headed back toward Madera, doing small and gentle aerobatics along the way. The contents of my stomach were still trying to free themselves from the confines of my belly, but to no avail, as I was doing my best to keep them where they belong. Deep in the never-ending expanse of farms, I spotted a thin strip of grey asphalt that I knew was the airfield. As our wheels touched down on the tarmac, I looked back on the day’s experiences: the delicious jelly beans, the hair-raising aerobatics, and the queasiness of my stomach. I should never have pigged out on jelly beans, and it was a lesson I shall not soon forget. I had learned my lesson; that was for sure, and I would never make the same mistake again: Self control is necessary for pretty much everything. But I also learned another valuable lesson that day: Never eat too many jelly beans before doing aerobatics!