Lowering the blood pressure

Published 8:55 pm Monday, June 2, 2014

My choices were a monoplane World War II-era trainer, a Great Lakes biplane and a Czech-made jet trainer.

If she’s in any way avaricious, newspaper journalism generally isn’t a career a mother dreams of for her son. But it does have the occasional payoff.

The joy flight with 757 Adventures was part of covering the weekend’s Virginia Regional Festival of Flight, which brought scores of planes and thousands of aviation enthusiasts to Suffolk.

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Climbing out of the Albatross jet trainer, Sean Cushing, president and CEO of the company with the tagline “Your adventure starts here,” recommended the Texan, painted up in period U.S. Navy livery and with two sliding canopies, one behind the other.

I realized this could be the only time I would ever twist and tumble through the skies in an aircraft like those my grandfather would have gazed up at during the fighting in Guinea.

To see how receptive I might be to catching some “Gs,” Cushing asked me whether I like rollercoasters and fat women. “Give me the full aerobatic experience,” I replied. With my answer, I detected a faint look of admiration — even brotherhood — flicker across his face.

Strapped into the rear seat, I sought confirmation that the silver buckle across my stomach was the one I would paw at if we had to bail out. “You’d open the canopy first,” Cushing answered, reinforcing the lesson by having me reach over with my right hand, pull down the lever and slide it forward.

According to manufacturer Boeing, the Texan was “the classroom” for most Allied pilots in the war.

It trained several thousands of pilots in 34 countries over 25 years, and the one we accelerated down the runway in — rattling only very slightly — was one of 15,495 manufactured.

It’s a 60-plus-year-old aircraft, built to prepare our sons for war, not pamper them. The exposed steel mechanisms, including throttle like something off a lawnmower and control column basically a length of pipe, together with the vintage instrumentation, took me back to the old International 711 combine harvester I’d driven on the family farm of my boyhood.

Thankfully, how often that old harvester broke down wasn’t part of my recollection.

We were airborne, and Cushing started into the aerobatics with a half-pipe motion, banking left and right like a skateboarder.

Then he put the Texan into a barrel roll.

“How you doing back there?” Cushing asked — or words that to effect.

I wasn’t queasy, I told him, but I was light-headed. He told me to clench my nether regions to raise my blood pressure.

But under the circumstances, I wasn’t convinced that was entirely a good idea.

Next came a vertical loop. Back level with the horizon and the right way up, I enunciated carefully into the microphone, “That’s probably enough aerobatics for me.”

My smile grew as we touched down gently onto the tarmac. A mixture of adrenaline, joy after doing something rare and fun, and relief to again feel terra firma.