SI Vault
Judy Muller
October 02, 1989
Why am I here? Here being in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, where I am about to be dragged into the sky in an engineless airplane. Actually, I know why. It was that newspaper ad I read: "The ultimate gift. Our pilot takes your friends for a breathtaking motorless soaring flight no words can express. Towplane ready. Rope attached. Towed high above the earth, rope released."
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October 02, 1989

From Chicken To Eagle

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Getter gives me instructions, and I try to concentrate on the words. I hear the towplane's engine revving up. Oh, god.

He tells me about the controls: "That's your airspeed indicator. We'll be flying about 70 miles per hour on the tow, and once we get off the tow, we'll be flying about 40 to 45. This one is the altimeter. And this handle here is your trimmer." He points to a lever on my lower left.

"My trimmer."

"Right. Now, once we get off the tow, I'll have you pull that back two notches. Basically, it's like a cruise control on your car. This over here is called a variometer. It tells whether we are going up or down, and by how much."

You mean, I won't know whether I'm going up or down? How many notches am I supposed to pull that thing? And when? Why am I here?

No time for dumb questions—or existential ones, for that matter. Getter is pointing to a little piece of yarn flying from an antennalike device on the nose of the plane. "That's a yaw string. That's what glider pilots fly by," he says.

"It tells me where the wind is coming from?" I ask.

"Well, no, it tells you if you're flying correctly into the wind. You can be going sideways over the ground, but if the glider is going straight, then the string will be back straight."

I have no idea what he's talking about. Because he's sitting behind me, Getter can't see the panic on my face as the canopy is closed over our heads. We're still on the ground, but the butterflies in my stomach are in full flight.

The single-engine Cessna heads down the runway pulling us along behind it. Suddenly, very suddenly, we're airborne, even before the Cessna is, like a kite being pulled by a child. Ahead, finally, the towplane begins to climb. So does my blood pressure. Getter is talking again: "What's your name?"

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