Aerobatics is a sport that does not require great physical strength. It is more a test of skill, coordination, finesse, know-how and stamina. It calls upon split second decision making and intelligence to precisely execute the maneuvers in a rapidly whirling and changing environment, while being subjected to extreme physical sensations - disorienting visuals, high decibel engine roar, and G forces that can knock you out. It requires total awareness of where you are in relation to the "aerobatic box," the sequence you are flying, the traffic that may wander into your flight area, and most definitely where the ground is at all times. I know of no other sport that calls upon the amount of sensory and cerebral processing needed, while transmitting coordination information at the extreme "baud" rates necessary, when spinning and flying at speeds approaching two-hundred-plus-mile-per-hour. It's's's fun!

It is also a solitary sport. When you fly a sequence in a contest, your total concentration is on your flight and on flying the figures better than you did the last time...of bettering yourself. No one has any consciousness of beating the other competitors - that happens after you land. It is not a team sport, yet a strong sense of camaraderie and bond develops between practitioners, perhaps because of the shared sense of challenge and elation we all feel, as well as the very real dangers involved. A lot of going to great lengths to help each other happens between competitors.

Yet sometimes, while flying home from a contest, I feel very alone, though not in a lonely sense at all. It's more a feeling of immense privilege...a unique sensation of being at one with the forces of nature, the machine, and the planet acute awareness of the grandeur of it all...a sublime epiphany.... A realization that one is incredibly privileged and extremely lucky to experience this almost mystical sensation, while floating above the earth, caressed by the rays of an afternoon sun, savoring the remembrance of how it felt to be one with the moment as I danced on the edge of the wind.

Yes, there are dangers...and I've lost a few friends. When Dave bought it, I helped clean up bits of his remains from the wreckage, which is probably the toughest thing one can experience in aviation. The next day, with the throttle feeling extremely heavy as I pushed it forward on take off, I forced myself back into the air, flew to the crash site, buzzed the spot, pulled up and did three rolls as a gesture of farewell. It seemed as if it was all I could do to help resolve the loss for myself, and yet positively affirm his life. It is easy to see how people can ascribe a certain death wish to anyone who flies, let alone practices aerobatics. What may not be obvious is that it is really an intense life wish that drives us - a wish to live it out fully and experience as much of life's greatest highs as possible. When I think of them, I vaguely remember their deaths. I vividly remember the laughter in their voices crackling through my headsets, their grinning faces in their cockpits as we flew each other's wing, their antics during those wild contest banquets where the bewildered waitresses finally got into the mood, and what genuine, heroic, and sometimes outrageous individuals they all were.

As for Dave, Marty, Jan, Flip and the others, if they are living out the afterlife as they lived this one, I'm sure they know paradise....


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