The biplane slipped down through the air and slid lightly onto the wet grass, with no more drama than you'd find in any normal human endeavor. However, my heart was ready to explode. Not with fear or excitement, but with sheer emotion and joy. I was a passenger, sitting in the expansive front seat of the 1929 Travel Air without a stick or even an airspeed indicator. But I felt more comfortable than I ever have. You see, the pilot in the back seat was an old friend.
We'd never actually met before today, but I felt like I knew him well. Many years ago I'd read about his adventures as he and Richard Bach barnstormed their way across the Midwest in a Travel Air much like the one I was riding in today. Cap'n Mac was just "Stu" back then, a 19-year old college kid with barnstorming stars in his eyes and the ability to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and float to earth under a parachute, a skill that drew crowds from the small towns out to pastures and small country airports all across the Midwest. There, he'd help load passengers, sell rides to the squeamish ("Best view on earth, Ma'am -- you'll be able to see the whole town!"), and even gave rides. Now, 40 years later, he's still giving rides in a stunning, pure-white Travel Air. I'd won a raffle for this ride and, by luck of the draw, I'd been picked to fly with him instead of one of the other four pilots.
After lifting off the smooth, grass runway, we climbed to 500 feet and circled low over town a few times, trying to attract customers to the airport in the age-old, traditional way. I rested my arm on the leather cockpit coaming, and at 80 miles per hour, tiny raindrops pelted my skin like little needles. I didn't care. I turned and grinned at Cap'n Mac as he pulled up gracefully and did a big, lazy whifferdill. After a little more sightseeing, we meandered our way back to the pattern for a gentle landing.
I know what I must do in my retirement. There is nothing else I want to do but spend my summers barnstorming around the country, meeting people and sharing the magic gift of flying in an old biplane.
You never know when a pleasant flight in an 80-year old airplane on a summer afternoon will change your life. Thanks to Cap’n Mac for reawakening my true flying soul, and reminding me what my calling is.
- American Barnstormers Tour
- Nothing By Chance