ARLINGTON – When I was offered a window seat to join “Rock n’ Roll Airshow Man” Will Allen in his airplane for a series of aerobatic stunts like the ones that would wow the crowds later at the Arlington Fly-In, I felt like singing. (Video)
But I left the vocals to Allen, and screamed excitedly on the inside. Music is at the heart of the pilot’s show that is equal parts gravity-defying aerial stunts and high-energy rock concert, singing his own produced songs and announcing live from his plane to spectators below.
His red, white and blue plane, the Rock n Roll Pitts S2B, is a high-performance two-seater and popular attraction at the Fly-In in Arlington, which Allen calls “sort of his hometown.”
Before hopping into the front of the plane, his wife, Lynda, helped strap a parachute on me, and they went over safety and landing instructions in the unlikely event of a stalled plane.
“If something happens that we have to bail out, I’m going to say ‘Bail out, bail out, bail out’ three times, very direct,’” Allen said. “It means I’m getting rid of the canopy, undo your belts, reach across and pull the C-ring on your parachute, then get your butt out of the plane. We’re not skydivers; we’re just getting out.”
Pausing for a moment, Allen turned and asked, “You’re not going to get sick in my plane, are you?”
“No, that’s not happening,” I replied.
“Good. So as you and I are going up, the clouds are a little low so we won’t be able to do everything this airplane can do,” Allen said.
Allen likened the aerial experience to riding a roller coaster. I’ve always loved roller coasters ever since I rode the rickety wooden Cyclone on the Coney Island boardwalk as a teenager, alone. My family took one look at the rundown amusement ride and lost interest.
I stepped onto the wing, climbed into the front of the cramped cockpit, slid down into the seat and buckled in.
After taxiing on the runway a few minutes and radio-ing controllers, the engine roared, and we took off heading northwest over I-5, with spectacular views a few thousand feet above the Stanwood area, a patchwork of farmlands and the Puget Sound.
Through our two-way headsets, Allen said he would start with a basic roll.
“You’ll be amazed at how a simple roll is one of the coolest things you’ve ever done in an airplane,” he said.
“Woo, hoo!” he shouted as the plane did a dramatic rollover while we reached speeds just under 200 mph.
The sense of speed and turning in air was exhilarating. While hanging upside down, I could feel my body come off the seat until we steadied after the roll.
Strange thing about the plane. Due to the angle when flying horizontally, I couldn’t see anything in front of me above the instrument panel, but I caught occasional glimpses of the horizon to my left and right.
“While we’re up here, keep an eye out and let me know if you see any other planes,” Allen said. “Don’t assume that I have seen it. It’s good to have an extra set of eyes to help out.”
“You feeling good after that? Doing okay?” Allen asked.
I said “yes,” grinning.
“Great, then we’re gonna do a loop so you can feel some Gs,” he said. “Tuck in your gut. Here we go.”
As the plane began its loop and reached the halfway point, the vertical g-forces were incredible, pushing my weight against me as I slumped into the seat. In science, 1 G is the force of Earth’s gravity. We hit 4 Gs, or four times my weight, with 40 to 50 pounds of force pulling my head to the side.
Over the headsets, he said, “You okay up there, buddy?”
“Absolutely,” I replied, catching my breath. “What a rush. This is outstanding.”
Convinced that I was holding up well, Allen saved the best aerial trick for last.
“We’ll do something vertical, I’ll make us go straight up, stick around and then come straight back down toward the ground, and we’ll throw in a double victory roll on the way coming down,” he said.
By that time I knew what was coming, and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.
“Double victory roll!” I shouted mid-stunt over the top of Allen’s hoots and hollers.
I turned off the GoPro camera and we landed smoothly back at Arlington Airport.
The flight didn’t last long – I didn’t want to come down – but it was rejuvenating.
Stepping down off the plane, I wondered if I might be a little wobbly. I was just fine. I didn’t experience any dizziness or nausea from start to finish, or need to break out a motion sickness bag.
For the sheer adrenaline rush, if I had to compare this to another experience checked off my bucket list, it would be skiing non-stop down the backside of Switzerland’s Matterhorn into Cervinia, Italy.