Flag Ship Glam
T-minus twenty minutes from departure. The air is sweltering. Hot and dry. Tarmac even hotter. Over a hundred degrees registers on the ramp at Tulsa’s Riverside Airport. We stand still. Soles of our feet steaming. No sudden movements. Sweat and wait for the rare opportunity to ride on the majestic “Flagship Detroit”. Fifteen of our die hard aviation loving friends along side us, arm to waist, braving the elements. Our group poses in front of the brushed chrome fuselage, equally excited and anxious to ride on the 1940‘s vintage DC-3 that has the distinction of being one of the oldest still flying in the world. After a series of snaps, cheesy smiles and flashes the cameras are stowed and the co-pilot gives the sign. “Everyone aboard,” he said ushering the crowd to fall in line at the base of the airstairs, grab the rubbery handrail and duck through the arched door.
Inside the stand up cabin both sides of the double-wide aisle is lined with standard American Airlines blue fabric seats. Two on the left, a single window seat on the right. Overhead, uncovered racks bulge with fluffy pillows, thirty or so years before the invention of roll aboard luggage. We lean forward slightly, climb the slight incline (it’s a taildragger after all) and choose the perfect spot for the hour-long site seeing tour of green country. I choose my row. Slide into the seat. A single, with an oblong window.
Once everyone is seated, the docent secures the door and begins the briefing.
“Hey Erin,” I hear a voice bark from the front. All heads snap around. Eyes focus on me.
“Get up here,” the captain says and without a second thought, I leap from my seat. As I hustle to the cockpit I notice my friends’ mixed expressions. Blank faces, twisting mouths, jaws hanging open. Like is she really going to fly this plane? Looks of surprise, confusion, maybe even a hint of fear. Sensing the tension in the cabin isn’t just from the stagnant, stifling air, I did what I do best. Made a joke. I grip the edge of the cockpit door and face the quiet cabin. “I’ll just close this so you don’t have to witness what were doing up here.” I pull the door partway closed, pause for a second and then poke my head through the opening. “Just kidding,” I say. Watch the group collectively gulp. Push the door to the stop and climb into the jumpseat.
With our headsets adjusted, checklists complete, the captain flips the ignition switches and the radial engines roar. Snake across the taxiway and once cleared by Tulsa tower, we barrel down the south runway. The heavy steel fuselage lofts ever so gently into the air in the way an over inflated inner tube bobs over the ripples in a lazy river. Propeller blades crank, cylinders fire, and the flying VW love bus crawls up to one thousand feet. Leveling the controls, just for a second, the captain nudges his number two urging him to give up his seat. Then the highly experienced flyer glances a hair above his aviator glasses, looks me in the eyes and smiles, “You have the controls.”
E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance
Roaming around with an hour of DC-3 time in my back pocket
aka The Aviating Wife