I was delivering a print to an ad agency, The Marketing Den, while working with a studio up in Saskatoon. I ran into a Creative Director that I knew there, David Gillespie.
While making erratic movements with his hands he said, “Brent, I just got a new two seater, wanna go for a ride?”
I didn’t hesitate at all, “Damn Straight, Dave, any time, any place.”
“Meet me at my house at five.”
I did, and we went from there to the airport. See, Dave was the 1992 Sportsman Aerobatic Champion of Canada, and his two seater, was a Pitts Special S-2A aerobatic bi-plane.
We got to the hanger, where I first laid eyes on the plane, glossy black, with the Ray-Ban logo in gold. He said it was part of the Ray-Ban Gold Aerobatic team, which had recently broken up.
After we pushed her out of the hanger, I put one foot on the wing and lifted myself into the front seat.
“Where are the front controls?” I asked.
He replied, “The front controls were taken out, so the firewall could be moved back...” He smiled, “So a larger engine could be put in. It has a 260 horse power engine but it came with 200 horse power.”
“Yeah, it went about 175 miles an hour, now it’ll go about 210.” He said.
“Far out.” I replied.
He changed the subject, “Now, if we have to leave the airplane...” He began telling me.
“Wait, leave the airplane?” I asked.
“Yes, this is important.” He smiled. “If we have to leave the airplane, I’ll turn it upside down, and open the canopy. You release your seatbelt, and fall out. Release your seatbelt, NOT your parachute.”
I looked down at the two belts, “Okay, which is which?”
He showed me. And he showed me two struts to hold on to...for dear life. Soon we were off, taxiing down to one end of the runway. We turned and he throttled up. We sped up to like 65 miles an hour. We lifted off of the ground a little bit and right away accelerated. He took us, it seemed to me, straight up, at the speed of sound. I knew we weren’t going that fast, but I could really feel the prop bite the wind. It was different than I expected, the motions were both soft and forgiving, and hard and sharp.
Once we got away from the airport, and were flying above farmland, in one motion, he brought one wing tip up, until we were leaning to left ninety degrees, and then, he brought the right wing tip up to the same angle. The whole motion took less than five seconds. He told me through the intercom that was a test. He asked how I was feeling. I gave him a thumbs up.
He rolled us twice to the left, and twice to the right. Thumps up. Then he pointed the prop a little into the roll, so we rolled about a hundred percent faster, twice in each direction. Again, thumbs up. I didn’t have a chance to do anything but smile.
Next came the Cuban eights. We did a half a loop, turning us upside down, with a half a roll that righted us. Then another half loop, with a half roll. The end result was, if the plane was a pencil, and the sky paper, we made an infinity sign. I was so concentrated on my firm grip on the struts, I couldn’t even think of getting sick to my stomach.
Looking out of the plane during a Cuban eight reminded me of the intro to Six Million Dollar Man, I saw glimpses of the ground, and glimpses of the sky twirling about. I think we were pulling a whole bunch of “Gs.” We did two Cuban eights and after, I gave him a thumbs up.
Next was a loop, and as we headed over the top and began our decent, really it was an upside down dive, on the other side of the circle, I looked out and thought, “What a pretty barn.” as we headed straight for a farm. Instead of crashing into the barn, we finished the loop. I started to feel a bit queasy, but that left me as we did another one.
As he turned the plane around back to the airport he asked, “Feel like a barrel roll?”
I said, “Uuuuh...”
Right away, we start rolling and looping at the same damn time. I don’t have any idea what we did exactly. It seems to me we did a diagonal loop, with constant rolling.
We set down soon after, and taxied back to the hanger.
He opened the canopy and got out of the little bi-plane, and turned to me and asked, "Well, did you have a good time?”
I replied, “Dave that’s the most fun I’ve ever had without having to take off my underwear.”
In researching the facts for this post, I found out in September, 2002 Dave donated the CF-AMR Pitts Special S-2A bi-plane to the Air and Space Museum in Ottawa. Not because I flew in it, but because it’s the last surviving plane of Canada’s Carling Red Cap aerobatic team, which became the Canada Reds, and The Ray-Ban Golds. That’s right, now the plane that I almost soiled myself in, is on display in the Air and Space Museum in Ottawa.