Isn't this fun?" Edna Gardner Whyte, pioneer woman aviator, has just stalled her plane at 1,500 feet, sending it toppling in a free-fall spin. Her passenger, someone who doesn't do too well on Ferris wheels, is screaming piteously at the earth that is whirlpooling up toward her, wrapping itself around her head, unfurling like an explosion in a ribbon factory.
"Edna...." The scream funnels out from some unexplored part of her psyche, filling the void where the motor once roared.
"Edna...the motor...is everything all right?"
"Yes, now relax. I want you to enjoy this."
The engine is back on, the plane has leveled out and the earth has stopped making monstrous faces at odd angles in the windows.
"Edna...please take me down." She has slid so far down in her seat, her head rests on her parachute.
"Come on. All the girls like it," says Edna, as calm as a sock in a dryer.
Edna Gardner Whyte, 81, the winner of innumerable air races and aerobatic contests, the instructor of more than 4,400 students, a past president of the Ninety-Nines (an international organization for women pilots), a designer and builder of two airports and the head of three flight schools, has every reason to be calm. Since 1928 she has spent 3½ years of her life, more than 30,000 hours, in the air; she feels as comfortable as an egg in a cake.
"Now look up," she says. "We're going to do a loop."