There is a 1983 movie, High Road to China. Cranky pilot Tom Selleck reluctantly accepts a two-biplane charter by feisty flapper Bess Armstrong who is on an urgent search for her missing father. A romantic 1920’s swashbuckling aviation adventure from Istanbul to Waziristan, Nepal and China. Just now on DVD after 30 years.
Nichole is a champion gymnast and a winning debater. She is also an aviation enthusiast. For a school science project she flight-tested various airfoils for distance and endurance. Another school project recreated Amelia Earhart’s last flight, with charts, photos, and a model of the missing mystery airplane. A costumed Nichole herself played the leading role.
Nichole’s first flight in a small airplane was with me in RP-C1513. Sitting on pillows, she could barely see over the instrument panel. Later she earned a Young Eagle certificate in a Bonanza at San Carlos airport in California.
Last year we did something special. The plan was aerobatics in a circa-1942 Stearman biplane at Sonoma-Schelleville airport. It was a cold, clear February day. Stearmans have open cockpits. Death by blast-freezing. A great plan.
We wandered the taxiways as the sun struggled to warm up this vintage aircraft heaven. There were precious aviation jewels in every hangar — Luscombes, Pipers, Globe Swifts, Stearmans, lovingly restored from the 1940s.
And we discovered an airplane I flew in my childhood 1/72 scale World War II missions in China. Never thought I’d see and touch the real thing!
We decided that death from frostbite in an open cockpit at altitude was better than dying of suspense. Nichole lithely flipped herself and her parachute into the Stearman’s cockpit. Pilot Tom Morris scrambled aside.
I bumbled every handhold and nearly punched a few more in the fabric.
Bundled up like Scott and Amundsen, we blasted off in a blaze of radial engine glory. We slipped over the China Slough and sailed downstream, rolling into S-turns along the twisting stream to San Francisco Bay.
We climbed to aerobatic altitude over the Infineon racetrack.
A gentle aileron roll tested Nichole’s fortitude. Then – BOOM — up into a vaulting loop, earth and sky flipping, the horizon rotating around the wingtips.
Wings glowing, sun-shot struts and braces sparkling with white fire.
Pitch up to a hammerhead, my favorite maneuver. Up, up into the clear blue, our spirits soaring with the Stearman. Stall turn at the top — left rudder, stick right and forward against gyroscopic precession. Headed straight down now, airspeed building, then up into a full Cuban Eight. Breathlessly.
This video, in two and a half minutes, is why I fly. It’s all here. The sparkle, adventure, romance, and contentment.
A year later Nichole flew unpowered aerobatics in a glider, the purest form of flight. This month she test flew herself as an airfoil. One day Nichole will design a supercritical wing for Airbus or Gulfstream, or a spaceflight company that doesn’t even exist today. She is the future.
Posted from Bangkok, June 21, 2012.
Some photos by Rebecca Rivera-Lim. Happy Birthday to you!