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Up, Up, Up, and Over the Top!


Russ Roberts took his first airplane ride from Beacon Field, Alexandria, Virginia (1957 Photo courtesy Friends of Beacon Field Airport).


An excerpt from Chapter Five of Unlearning to Fly: Navigating the Turbulence and Bliss of Growing Up in the Sky:


“... The new Silflex design is strong,” says Daddy, over another dinner.


I eat while he tells my Mama all about our new airplane. “That new gear design mitigates airframe damage when ground loops occur. Luscombes are hot little numbers and ground loops are common,” says Daddy.


He gets my attention with the word “loops.” My mind wanders back to my first memory, from way back when I was little. I rode through a regular loop—a loop the loop—with my father in an Aeronca Champ. The mention of loops takes me back all those years… back to my very beginning. How old was I? Three? My fork stops halfway to my mouth as I remember.


“Ready, Son?” Daddy yelled over the roar of the Champ’s engine, a few minutes after we’d taken off from Beacon Field. We didn’t wear headsets. I thought only Pan American pilots over the Pacific wore headsets. “Rangoon, Rangoon, China Clipper…”

There was no intercom, no radio, in the Champ.


“Yes! Ready!” I yelled back.

He pushed the airplane’s nose down to make the Champ go faster. The airplane’s fabric skin moaned and the struts screamed in the wind over the tiny engine’s puny roar as Daddy pulled back on the stick. The stick on the floor in front of me moved back, too. I grew heavy for a three-year-old as the load factor increased. My face sagged. My tennis shoes pulled my legs toward the floor. I wasn’t sure I would survive the strain. Was I going to die? How exciting!

We were up, up, and up! How far up could we go? Up, up, up and over the top! With the world upside down I rose off my seat and, for a moment, floated in the too loose seatbelt. The trees and cars were above my head, and my body had no weight. Just a second before I’d been so heavy! My stomach wondered if it should be sick. But it decided right away that, even though unmoored and untethered, it and my other floating organs would be okay.

With the world upside down, the deafening engine noise stopped as my father pulled the throttle to idle. Then with a groan we headed straight back for the ground and I grew very heavy again. Within seconds the world righted itself and Daddy looked over his shoulder to me in the back seat. He grinned. I grinned back.

Though brief, that experience was a lot for a three-year-old to take in. I guess that’s why I’ve never forgotten it.

But now I think about a ground loop in a Luscombe. It sounds like an exciting maneuver. Do you go upside down? How do you go upside down on the ground?


An excerpt from the memoir, Unlearning to Fly: Navigating the Turbulence and Bliss of Growing Up in the Sky. The book will be available on Amazon, Kindle, and Audible in late 2020.


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