While camping on Carlsbad Beach in California, I noticed an ad for a ride in a biplane. Barnstormers! Wilbur and Orville! Snoopy and Red Baron! Two for the price of one!
Janene revved high spirits as we opened our pickup doors, “You look like you came from Colorado!” Enthusiasm flowed as she briefed us, checking for hazards: “Are you wearing earrings, Ann? Tuck your hood in, so it won’t pull. I have a vest if you’re cold.”
I especially appreciated these efforts because I was so nervous about getting airsick, I’d taken two pills, and they were making me slow on the uptake.
“Helmet” in hand, she said, “Ann if you will grab the sides.” Then she said it again because I was waiting for her to tell me what would happen if I grabbed the sides. Eventually we got the cap on.
Watching Steve board first helped me handle that process: “Step only on the black mat on the wing, hang on to the supports, not the door, step on the seat, grab the support, and lean your head back as you lower yourself into the seat.” We squeezed into one seat while Janene leaned over me to help with our shared seatbelt, very cozy.
Brian, a British pilot, gave us a history of the plane—exciting enough to rate mention in the two notable books listed below. I intend to read at least one, but I really wish I could read Brian’s mother’s story. She was the “Olive” the plane is named for, and she sounds like a spitfire. During World War II, she worked making ammo in a discretely converted chocolate factory. Hoping to get closer to her sweetheart, she quit that job to join the army, except he shipped off and spent to the rest of the war—seven years—in Africa.
For some reason the pilot’s seat is located in back where it’s impossible see over the tipped-up front. Brian overcame by snaking constantly to get a glimpse of what was coming. As we waited our turn to take off, an oily internal combustion smell along with a mild jiggle made me queasy, but Brian had assured us that no one had ever needed a “breakfast review bag” in the many years he’d been offering flights. He’d explained all this in advance to maintain a “quiet cockpit” through the airport. That’s the most dangerous part of the trip, and he could allow no distractions.
Our chosen itinerary took us straight to the ocean and followed the coast to San Diego. Along the way, we watched for whale spouts. If successful, he would circle back and carefully parallel the whale’s track, so as not to spook it into a dive. Brian had had luck seeing whales despite recent rains that clouded coastal waters and discouraged whales. Still, all I managed to spot were kelp beds and what looked like dolphins porpoising. Brian’s prize viewing was a pod of about 200. Breakers were interesting to watch. The white crest seemed static at first glance, then as the wave breaks, a narrow apron of foam furls out behind. Brian also pointed out some landmarks, including Mexico under a cloud of brown smog.
Then it was over and we hadn’t even gotten to do handstands on the wings or dodge bullets with a barrel roll. Curse you Red Baron!
Books featuring Olive:
Nothing By Chance by Richard Bach who also wrote Johnathan Livingston Seagull. N9872 was owned by Spencer Nelson at the time, and she makes her appearance in Chapter 16. Olive was also featured recently by name in the New York Times best seller The Huntress by Kate Quinn.