The annual airport BBQ at 7 Lakes Airstrip in Butts County, GA, was held this weekend. As I looked at the pictures posted on Facebook and saw all the familiar faces and “hangar fliers” of my youth, I was filled with nostalgia for the tradition of the airport BBQ and remembered the story of my first aerobatic flight.
My teenage years as an airport brat at Covington Airport were filled with all sorts of delightful experiences and characters. I spent countless hours listening to wild tales and capturing every experience I could on paper. Even during the school day, aviation rarely left my thoughts. I auditioned for a drama club production with a poem I had written about flying. In English class I wrote short stories about airplanes and the people who flew them. I talked airplane with my biology teacher, who himself was a former aviator. My science project was an altimeter made from dryer vent hose, and I unabashedly read aviation training books when I was bored during class. Even at home, while I mowed the lawn, I fantasized about my knight in a shining Pitts S2S Special who would swoop down and fly me off into the sunset.
I’ll never forget my second airplane ride out at Covington Airport. I rode in a small green and white Citabria—a tail dragger with a sunburst paint scheme on the wing tops that decorated the sky when the plane was flown inverted. “Citabria” is really “airbatic” spelled backwards, and the only way to fly a Citabria is upside down.
The summer sky was clear, the temperature was mild, and twilight was slowly taking over the horizon. I was sitting in the airport building waiting for my dad when one of the local pilots asked me if I wanted a ride in the Citabria. I knew automatically what the invitation meant—an aerobatic flight. Many times I had admired the aerial antics of the local flyers. When they did loops and spins, my eyes longingly followed their sky bound patterns. I quickly found my dad, secured permission to ride, and dragged the pilot to the plane.
“Now we are just going to try a few unusual attitudes at first.”
My sinuses soon cleared as we rotated into a steep climbing turn. In no time we were at 3,000 feet initiating a series of six loops. I experienced for the first time ever, positive G forces. Kind of like my first kiss (which came a few years later and wasn’t nearly as thrilling) I embraced the experience, but not without some apprehension. I was afraid that the pilot would think I was scared because I couldn’t smile! My cheeks were so heavy. They felt as though they were sliding off my face and onto the floor of the plane.
“You’re not sick are you?” the pilot asked
“Nope.” I replied.
“Want to do some more?”
“Oh. Yes sir!”
We flew, executing two snap rolls and a 2 ½ turn spin, the pilot cheerfully announced each maneuver after he performed it. Then we landed—on one wheel. My father, along with several other aviator spectators, had watched from outside the building. Dad said he figured I’d either be in love with or absolutely hate flying after that ride. As soon the engine stopped, I unhooked myself from the harnesses and bounded across the ramp
“Oh Daddy,” I cried “It was wonderful. I want to learn to fly, please.”
From that point on, I was allowed one lesson each month plus any other flights that I could beg from pilots approved by my parents. I became a skilled airport brat and a devoted hangar flier. On weekends, especially busy Saturdays, I would sit inside the stuffy listen to all of the talk, waiting for the opportunity to go flying. The “old pros” and airport personalities told all of their stories, and I found myself, not unlike Miniver Cheevy, longing for the good old days of barnstorming.
© Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.