Maniac Flyer


Depending upon my neurosis-of-the day, my fears manifest themselves in different disguises. At 18 years old, it was fear of not meeting a man, marrying, buying a house and having children. At 25 years old, it was. Funny how fears can fade the closer you get to them, unless you are talking about that plane ride from North Jersey to Cape May.

A friend had driven to the Cape ahead of me to assist in a NJ Audubon event that I was not available to attend. I was planning on meeting up with her afterward to spend the rest of the weekend doing what birders do in Cape May, NJ.

Rather than have two cars there, her husband, a pilot, offered to fly me down in his plane. I love to fly. I would hop onto a magic carpet. Until that day, I bragged to be willing to fly in any kind of weather.

I have since modified that approach.

On the morning of the flight, my friend called from Cape May.

“The wind is terrible. I don’t think my husband should fly you down.”

“He just called me to say he thought it would be fine.” I answered, eager to go. “The news media always makes it sound worse than it is. He told me it was up to me. I’ m ready!”

I thought it would be neat. My husband came too, just for the fun of the plane ride and to keep the pilot, “L,” company.

We met at the local airport. We were the only ones standing in the wind, which should have been my first clue. “L” opened the hangar door, picked up a long lever and dragged the plane from its moorings to the tarmac.

I paused. We’re going to fly through the air in something the pilot can pull like a little red wagon?

Never mind. Get in. Ken in the back, me in the front. Pull on the headsets. Oops. Better call my friend, “S” in Cape May to confirm we are coming.

Taxi down the runway. Hmmm. The treetops were bending in the wind. The airport flags were streaming flat out, like they had just been starched and ironed.

Wow, I thought. Look at that Red-tailed Hawk being knocked backward.

I had total trust in the pilot. Still do. His reputation for safety is second to none.

Not even Starbuck’s strongest blend can wake you up faster than flying in a small plane in a windstorm. The Beechcraft started to buck and kick the second we flew over the pine trees at the edge of the runway.

This is cool, I thought, pulling my seatbelt tighter.

A whoosh of wind shoved the back of the plane hard. If it wasn’t for the harness, there would have been daylight between the seat and me.

I pretended I was on a naughty horse. Sit down and back. Sit down and back. Hands quiet.

The plane plummeted. My arms and hands flew up. I glanced at “L”, who was smiling.

“It’s a little rough but it will be okay. We just have to get above it. It will be smooth as glass.”

I smiled back. “I’m fine! This is fun!” I called.

The plane rocked to the side, then back again. It reared up, then bounced along as if we driving hell for leather along a road strewn with boulders. I looked at “L”, as peaceful as a Buddha at the controls. I stole a glance at my husband in the back seat. He was smiling benignly. You would think he was watching a favorite football team on TV.

“L” picked up the radio.

“New York, this is Beechcraft Bonanza 3509. Come in please.”

Tick, tick, tick. Bee hum static.

“New York, this is Beechcraft Bonanza 3509. Come in please.”


“Hmmmph. That’s strange,” he mumbled.

I looked at him. That’s strange?

“New York, this is Beechcraft Bonanza 3509. Come in.”


I glanced out the window to my right. What a thrill it was to see the wings actually move, almost like a bird! I wondered if they ever ripped off….

“This has never happened before.” “L” twiddled with the mysterious instrument panel.

“What?” I said. “The city that never sleeps picks this morning to stay in bed?”

He didn’t respond, just kept repeating the call number to identify himself as the only aircraft hurtling through the same wind that could blow small cars off the George Washington bridge.

They never did answer.

In my equestrian days, I refused to stay on the back of a badly mannered horse. I was never thrown (though I did manage to slip off a Tennessee Walking horse, touted as the smoothest ride in town). If the horse didn’t straighten out quickly, I stopped and got off.

I looked down at the disappearing earth. Too late to get off this ride.

We flew on, “L” and Ken relaxed and chatting through their headsets, me with a frozen smile pasted on my face less the men think I was a baby. I was somewhere between the thrill zone and hysteria. And, what do you know? Look at this: If I look out at the wings for too long, I get woozy.

Sit back and look straight through the horse’s ears. Keep your balance. I sat back and stared straight over the plane’s dashboard to the horizon. All righty, then.

The plane continued to reel and shudder.

“L” informed me, “We actually don’t have to contact anyone. I do it as a precaution, so someone knows where we are.”

I nodded. So they know where to search for the wreckage.

“L” finally made contact with a military base in south Jersey and received permission to fly through their airspace about six miles above the earth. (SIX MILES. FROM MY HOUSE TO STOP ‘N SHOP). It was just as he had predicted. The sky was a peaceful blue. The plane settled in to a smooth gallop. I sighed. Now all we had to do was get down.

In half an hour, we reached the airport at Cape May, where his wife, my birding buddy, was waiting. We bounced our way back down through an elevator of rocks, landed and taxied over to where she stood in the wind with her dark hair billowing around her anxious face.

“Wow, “L”, that was great.” I said. “Thanks so much!”

“You’re welcome,” he answered, then added.

“You know, that was a rough flight. If I had known it was going to be that bad, I never would have flown, but 99.9% of the time, the degree of risk is exaggerated. There is only .01% that it is not.

“Today was that .01%.”

“And here you are, flying in a plane for the first time with someone you hardly know but totally trust. That’s amazing.”

“But you are a maniac.”

This entry was posted in birding parrots, Cape May, fearsome, flyer, horse, maniac, neurosis, plane, plummet, Red-tailed Hawk, thrown. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Maniac Flyer

  1. Anonymous says:

    “What a thrill…like a bird. I wonder if they ever rip off…” OH how I laughed! I love your sardonic humor – you should write more humor!!Kim

  2. Anonymous says:

    I felt like I was in the plane with you. Loved your self-contained fear. Loved your humor with this piece.Kimmie (fruit from the tree)

  3. Bevson says:

    OMG. I needed a Dramamine to read this. Very Funny.

  4. Anonymous says:

    OH…MY…GOSH! HOW GREAT AND HILARIOUS! LAUGHED OUT LOUD OFTEN! Having flown for the first time in one of these small planes, I could picture every moment vividly! Reminded me of the time TU and I flew with Ed – Ed handed the “owner’s manual” to T and said, “See if you can find how to turn on the defrosters”…!Babs

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