Air shows: Action and awe are the real deal

September 2016 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

carl-sampsonBy Carl Sampson

I am standing on a patch of grass watching a man named Brad Wursten defy gravity. He is in a tiny airplane called an MXS-R, which is hanging by its propellor a couple thousand feet in the air. What is keeping him from plummeting to his death in a fireball, I’m not sure.

I am sure Mr. Wursten is violating at least one law of physics and maybe two or three others as his plane pirouettes in the sky.

I stand there in total amazement until suddenly, he kicks the left rudder pedal and the plane tumbles earthward. About 200 feet from certain death, he pulls back on the stick and flies normally, as though nothing has happened.

Just another day at the office.

I admit it. I am an airplane nut and air shows are to me what Comi-Con is to a Trekkie.

The only difference: Air shows are about reality, beauty and courage; science fiction is about imagination and makeup.

Oh, I like science fiction just fine, but it’s largely computer generated “action” in which anyone can do anything.

A bit later in the show was a demonstration flight featuring an F/A-18 jet.

It’s the Ferrari of airplanes.

It can hurl itself off the deck of an aircraft carrier and bolt through the sky at 1,190 mph.

On this particular day I am at the Oregon Air Show in Hillsboro. This sky is filled with daring young men in their flying machines. For me, they are dream machines.

Though I’m not a pilot — I barely trust myself in my Honda during the daily commute into Salem — I’ve flown in a lot of planes, some unique.

I once was in a Grumman Goose — an amphibious plane made during World War II — when it landed on a lake — by moonlight — at Katmai National Park in Alaska.

As a cub reporter I flew in a Huey helicopter to cover the largest wildfire in history west of Mount McKinley.

Another time my wife and I flew in a DC-3 from White Horse, Yukon, to Juneau, Alaska. This plane was also a survivor of World War II, when it was called the “Gooney Bird.”

The only time I regret not taking a flight was about 20 years ago at the Oshkosh, Wis., Air Show, which is as close to Airplane Mecca as a guy like me can get. The show features hundreds of airplanes, including dozens of every World War II plane you can imagine.

This particular year, a supersonic Concord was at the show and offering Mach 1 flights over Canada for $200. My cheapness got the better of me and I stayed on the ground. About a year after that, nearly all of the Concords were grounded forever. It was one more item on my bucket list that won’t be checked off.

Watching airplanes, though, will always be a pleasure. I occasionally go to airports to see the takeoffs and landings and to check out the planes.

Sometimes I even go somewhere in them.

Carl Sampson is an editor and  freelance writer.

He lives in Stayton.

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