The Chipmunk experience

Published 9:24 pm Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There are a few things I’ve done in life that rate as an “experience of a lifetime.” I went to Mexico on a few mission trips, had an Oval Office tour of the White House and met President Bush and lived in Spain for a summer. A recent experience has topped my list though.

I went flying over the Virginia Beach coastline and Pungo strawberry fields.

When I arrived at the Military Aviation Museum, I was promptly zipped into a tan jump suit and introduced to my pilot Nelson Eskey, whose competence as a pilot taking me up thousands of feet in the air I never once questioned.

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I’ve been asked several times since flying if I was scared, but the emotion never crossed my mind. I might not know a lot about planes, but I know a lot about people, and Eskey and the guys helping us fly knew what they were doing.

They took me outside and showed me the sparkling silver beauty that I was going to get to fly in.

It took every ounce of self-control not to start jumping up and down with childish delight — which is exactly what I did when managing editor Res Spears told me I was going to get to do this.

The plane was a deHavilland DHC-10, also known as “Chipmunk” — which I have since been nicknamed.

It’s a two-seat, single-engine plane that was used as a primary trainer in England’s Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force through much of the post-World War II years.

The plane I flew in served with various units of England’s Royal Air Force until 1997.

We were soon rattling down a mowed strip of grass behind the hangar and flying above the treetops.

People say when you have one sense taken away it makes the others more acute.

I couldn’t hear a thing, but I needed every bit of the sight my body could muster to take in what I saw.

I’ve had my breath taken away at the sight of many beautiful views, but the view from the plane is unparalleled to any other. It makes me a bit dissatisfied to look at things from my normal stature of 5 feet, 4 inches now.

Flying a few thousand feet above the farmlands and shoreline with the wind in my hair was the most peaceful, surreal experience I’ve had in my short 22 years, as well.

That peace quickly turned to exhilaration when we did a flyby of the hangar though. We whizzed by the world and back into the skies at speeds I’ve never traveled at before.

While my flight only lasted around 30 minutes, I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day and have memories I’ll carry with me forever.

Journalists are often accused of being pessimistic. I’ve never been one to rationalize, but it’s my opinion that any seasoned journalist just has a firmer grip on reality.

There are few jobs that require one to observe and analyze human nature and current events in such a raw fashion every day.

I’ve not descended to any pits, but it’s not very often I can afford to get lost in the clouds.

But on Monday, thanks to the generosity of the folks at the Military Aviation Museum and my editors, that is exactly what I did.

LEila ROche is a reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald. She can be reached at 757.934.9613 or at