Patty Party Plus
It is hard for me to top Curt's description of this Babe-In as simply, "Wow!" It's not just that we went to a party hosted by Patty Wagstaff, which by itself is outstanding. Many fabulous things happened on this trip.
What an unusual experience to walk around the airport, the resort, and the party, knowing Babes were around, and knowing their minds from the board, but not knowing the faces yet, and having to guess who was whom.
2Bits and I arrived Wednesday morning and immediately met Mouseman as he landed behind us. After finding the resort, we spent most of the day settling in. The next morning we were walking outside searching for breakfast when I heard an airplane overhead, and looked up. Just then someone yelled, "Rush!" It was Moxie, Leapie and Grum Guy, who had recognized 2Bits from his picture, but who knew for sure we were Babes when I looked up at the plane.
After breakfast we went to the airport and 2Bits took a local flight while I stayed on the ground with a handheld, listening to his announcements. As I sat outside the FBO a beautiful chameleon purple taildragger taxied up, and two men got out. They nodded a greeting to me as they walked into the building. Little did I know that the very next day one of these men would take me up in a plane just like that sleek purple one, and we'd do unspeakably fabulous things with it!
Soon, Moxie and Leapie arrived, and we four went up for a local tour in our Skyhawk. We flew south along the coast and saw the old fort from the air, the lighthouse, and the Lion's Bridge. It was a fun flight, all the more so because of Moxie and Leapie.
After the flight, 2Bits and I went for lunch and went back to the resort for a rest and dip in the pool before party time. At the pool there were several folks around, none of whom we knew, and we wondered to each other if any were Babes. 2Bits said, "I just don't think it would be the right thing to do, to yell out, 'Are any of you guys Babes?'" As it happened, Cubbintime and Curt were there. We finally figured it out when Moxie and Leapie arrived and came up to them. Then several more Babes arrived and we got to meet them before the party.
Finally, party time arrived, and as it happened, we arrived on Patty and Dale's front stoop as a big gang, all of us getting suitably be-beaded by Cheryl. When people see my pictures they all ask, "What's with the beads?" That was a special touch, Cheryl!
At the Patty Party, there were new minds to meet. As one of the guests said to me, "This party spans the spectrum of pilots, from student all the way to the pinnacle of aviation in military, professional and sport." And he proceeded to give me some examples of the accomplishments of some of the other guests.
I must confess that my love affair with aviation has consisted of loving the act of flying itself, and I have been shamefully neglectful in learning of the achievements of the many still living great aviators of our time. I of course knew of Patty herself, but the credit for that lies more in her fame than in my seeking knowledge about aerobatics. Such is my deficiency, I did not even realize that our host, Dale Snodgrass, is a highly honored fighter pilot of the Gulf War. But when I saw the video of him doing incredible things with an airplane, I knew I was in the presence of other aviator greats also.
Patty Wagstaff and Dale Snodgrass
2Bits and I struck up a conversation with a humble but confident man, only to discover later that he held the 1994 U.S. National Aerobatic Championship. He was Phil Knight and he was one of the men from the purple plane! Later still, I spoke with a man who shares my father's name, and discovered a professional flyer with an incredibly rich history, Harry Shepard. Harry's wife, Marlene, is on her own careful journey into aviation and in many ways reminds me of myself.
There were many others I spoke with, and many supportive spouses, who were just as interesting and centered. There were many I did not get a chance to speak with, and I only wish time could have stood still so I could corner each and every one of them and learn their pearls of wisdom. Patty herself I would have loved to have talked with for hours, but alas, a hostess is always in high demand, and a hostess of Patty's stature, especially so. But I did get to greet her, and a more gracious and sweet person I cannot imagine, and she is so beautiful!
And then of course there were all the Babes at the party and I also wish I could have had hours with each one. Meeting each one was wonderful.
Patty gets her Bunny Ears
2Bits, MouseMan, BlueMoon, Sam
2Bits, MouseMan, GrumGuy, Cubbintime
ASIC #1, Gemini (Razor's on the steps)
VOODOO and Leapfrog
MouseMan, BlueMoon, Leapie
Jason, Zeus, unknown, Gemini
Babes doing their spins
Xena, Freefly, Skysailor, Jason
Moxie bestows the coveted status of
"One of the Girls" (OotG)
upon Patty as Gypsy witnesses
One more person I was honored to meet was Milly. I understand she was responsible for a lot of pulling the event together, and I thank her. She did a fabulous job.
The food was spectacular, and Patty's birds are gorgeous. There were wonderful pictures on the walls - airplanes, of course! One picture especially intrigued me; an aerial shot of a hurricane off the coast of Florida. Only pilots fully understand the meaning of seeing such formations from perspectives other than the ground. Not that I'll ever see a hurricane from that altitude, but I do know that the sky is three dimensions and very deep. Maybe that's the secret understanding in the eyes of all these pilots…
After the Patty Party, some of us met at the pool and enjoyed a late night hot tub indulgence, although Carolyn was the only one who fully indulged. None of the rest had suits on, but some took off their shoes and dangled their feet in the hot water. I listened to Leapie discuss his many skydiving exploits. We all had to dodge a giant renegade beetle.
The next day was spent at the airport for most of us. We all ended up at the Top Gun hangar giving Gemini and Gipper moral support for their air battle. Dale himself was Gipper's safety pilot.
GIPPER with Dale
Patty came, and everybody watched the warbirds take off. Even the local TV news was there. After formation takeoff, they did a low pass over the field. I was thrilled to see the old birds being flown. Thank goodness for the pilots of World War II and their planes. How wonderful that they are being remembered by the Top Gun folks; keeping the imagery and experience alive for those of us whose fathers fought that war.
Taxiing for takeoff
We got to see Dale's planes in the hangar and Patty's. How kind of them to allow this bunch of silly Babes to gawk at their airplanes.
I understand Patty took some Babes up in her Instument Rated Super Cub. Patty, what a generous lady you are! I know they loved it.
While they were doing that, 2Bits and I went in search of Phil Knight, who had promised to take us up for some aerobatics. We found him at Aerosport and he got out N2XA for us.
N2XA is an Extra 300L and I was instantly impressed by its beauty.
2Bits said I should fly first, before I got a chance to chicken out. Phil started by helping me into my parachute, and then instructing me on the gymnastics necessary to get into the cockpit. Once seated, I had to learn the mechanisms of the strong five point harness; the way to latch it together and ratchet it tight, and the way to un-latch it in the "unlikely event" of a baleout, and then he instructed me on the gymnastics necessary to get back out of the cockpit should we need to depart the plane whilst aloft. Then I put on my headset, which was contained within a whole head covering, to prevent the headset from falling off when the plane is upside down.
Phil got in behind me and I had time to ponder my situation while he strapped in and closed the canopy. I was only a bit nervous. He started up and taxied to the runway explaining the snaking around necessary to taxi in a taildragger. When the takeoff run started, I immediately noticed a stronger acceleration force than we have in our Cessna, and then the bird was off the ground, and from that moment on, all anxiety vanished and I was totally enchanted. Liftoff was an explosion of raw energy and the feel of riding this machine is like having a wild beast under your command. I love our 172's strong reliable drone, but the Extra thrilled me with its aggressive enthusiasm.
The first biggest impression is the incredible cockpit visibility. The Extra's bubble canopy, and the fact that I was up front, gave me the closest feeling to naked flight, like a bird, that I have ever had. The wing is not overly large and does not present a major visual obstacle. The airplane is instantly responsive and so the slightest control inputs allow you to make major attitude changes to look for traffic, and conversely to correct back to straight and level, all without feeling like you have taken any trouble to do anything.
Compared to my Cessna, it is extremely touchy; a good thing. Phil put it this way, "You think it, and the plane does it." That was nearly true. It has a stick, of course, not a yoke. Phil had me take the plane for the climb to altitude, and just do some gentle turns to get the feel of it. I held the stick in my hand and quickly learned which minor twitches of my small hand muscles would make the plane instantly bank or pitch. It was too easy. The plane's 300 horsepower engine pulled us up like a rocket, and soon we were at the practice area and ready to try an aerobatic maneuver.
Phil kept the throttle full open for everything, and talked me through doing an aileron roll. I pulled up into about a 15 degree pitch, and then Phil said, "Aileron full left and hold it until we are around." I put the stick full to the left, which felt like a very minor deflection, and watched over the nose as the horizon spun like a top before my very eyes. When it seemed the earth was downward again, I neutralized the stick, and, with some amateurish wobbles, got us straight and level again. I think at that point I was probably damaging Phil's ears with my screams of delight. It was FUN! The Extra has a roll rate of 400 degrees per second, so the entire roll lasted less than a second, but felt like a lifetime of joy.
Phil did the next maneuvers while I just held the control stick to feel what was done with it. We did a loop, and he explained each phase as it happened. We then did a hammerhead. It starts by pulling up as in a loop, but instead of looping back over the top, the backpressure is relaxed and the plane is held with its nose pointed straight up at the sky. It rises and rises until its power can no longer pull us up anymore. At that instant, we hang in midair with nothing supporting us. Phil is telling me to note the sensation of hanging in space. The airplane hovers all around us, but is not holding us up. We float in the straps. Then Phil tells me to look at the left wingtip as he begins the rudder deflection that will swing the nose sideways over toward the horizon. The horizon, a vertical line, proceeds to move to the right as we fall over to the
left until the entire windshield is full of dirt. We are now pointed straight down. The dirt starts getting bigger. For some reason, that makes me smile. Then Phil pulls us out of the vertical dive and I smile even more and scream with joy.
None of this made me the slightest bit queasy. My inner ear "knew" I was screwing around with it, however, so I thought it wise to keep my first aerobatic flight short while I still felt good, and we headed back toward the airport.
Phil landed and taxied up to the FBO where 2Bits was waiting for his ride. We did the old switcharoo and 2Bits went up with Phil, where he did much more than I did. 2Bits is very experienced with radio controlled planes and so was able to perform maneuvers himself with just a little coaching from Phil.
When they came back, I could see on 2Bits's face that he had had a blast.
But the fun was not over yet. After putting away the Extra, we walked back to the FBO just in time to see Patty getting ready for takeoff in her Extra. A few minutes later we were treated to a real aerobatics show! Patty did all sorts of stuff, for a long time. There was smoke defining her plane's path. There were all sorts of maneuvers that I recognized as dazzling combinations of the stuff I had just learned, and more. It was all down low, just beyond runway 31, and right before our very awestruck eyes! She flew upside down. She did hammerheads and rolls and loops and dives and twirls and all that stuff together at once! I was so transfixed that I totally forgot about my camera and regretfully did not take any pictures. But no still shot would have done the show justice anyway. It was the motion that was the point.
Sometime after this, 2Bits and I realized that we were hungry, and went up to the café where we found many Babes, and had a marvelous late lunch.
The weather was gorgeous and more Babes showed up, but 2Bits and I were exhausted and soon left to go back to the resort for a rest and a swim. Late that afternoon we found Blue and Snappy and BrianT and Grummie and went on a hunt for Gipper who had a video of his combat. After searching the entire resort, and running into Gemini in the lobby, Blue finally got Gipper on the phone for a progressive taxi, and we found him in an obscure little conference room that contained a VCR and TV. We got to see the video of Gemini and Gipper's entire battle. What a great war, guys! Then Rudder came, and we got to watch the video of Snappy's skydive! That was fun!
By that time, 2Bits was falling down exhausted, and since we had to fly very early the next day, we knew we had to eat early and retire and would miss the 8 pm Babes dinner.
Babes Friday Night Dinner
(See if you can find HavNfun?)
This sure is one old guy :)~
Rudder and BrianT elected to eat early with us at the resort, and I think Blue and the others went for seafood! Unfortunately we couldn't do the kayaking with the other Babes, but I'm sure they must have had fun. Sadly, we would also miss the Saturday dinner.
The next morning 2Bits and I got out to the airport very early and took off on our flight plan for home. In the air, listening to ATC, we heard the controller ask a pilot, "How may I be of service to you, oh Great Aviator?" A very fitting end to a trip on which we met many great aviators; some famous, experienced and talented, and some unassuming beginners, but all with the courage and dreams to do this extraordinary thing called flying.
Back home we were telling my sister that we went to a party at Patty Wagstaff's house and she asked, "Wow, how did you get into that?" 2Bits replied simply, "The front door." Thank you, Patty, for welcoming us in your front door and into your wonderful world of flying at St. Augustine. We will cherish the memories more than you know.
Rush and 2Bits
PS from Moxie: Thank you so much Rush for writing this wonderful adventure for us. You truly have a talent.
To all: If anyone has pics from the Saturday night costume party, please e-mail them to me and I'll add them to this adventure.