A thrill at the Jetport

On occasion, I’ve been known to “thrill seek.”
OK, so I’ve never skydived or climbed a mountain, but I’ve gone up in rickety B-17 bombers (twice), I’ve snorkeled with sea turtles in the Caribbean, I’ve conquered some of the country’s tallest and fastest roller coasters (with eyes open) and I’ve ridden that awful, awful stomach-turning monstrosity at the Lee Regional Fair known as the G-Force.
When I arrived at Family Day at the Jetport Saturday with my wife and daughter, I wasn’t expecting to check off another item on my “cool” list, but that changed with local businessman and flight hobbyist Jerry Pedley asked me, “So … you wanna go up?”
Of course I want to go up.
Jerry’s son, Jeremy (also a pilot), took me up in the Pedley’s Piper Cherokee Charger 235, a single-engine plane with 1970s Buick-inspired interior. Herald photographer Wesley Beeson joined us.
And while what we actually did wouldn’t necessarily qualify as “daredevil” stuff, the experience was, to quote one of the 11-year-olds who went up before us, “pretty darn cool.”
Then again, I think pilots in general are “pretty darn cool” to begin with. Whether they’re flying the single engine “toys” or the Boeings of the world, pilots are to be admired. In addition to the ability to fly, they often wear the cool aviator shades, the bomber jackets (sometimes) and the flowing scarves (again, sometimes).
So as Wesley and I buckled in and donned our headphones (which was also cool), I probably came off as an 11-year-old with my line of questioning for Jeremy Pedley.
“What’s the neatest thing you’ve seen from the air?”
“How far can you fly on a tank of gas?”
“What’s it like to be you?”
Two of those were actual questions.
Turns out, Jeremy did have a few good stories. The one that sticks in my mind most is that he and his dad were flying on Sept. 11, 2001, at the time the World Trade Center was attacked, and therefore, they were grounded in Georgia. The two stayed in a hotel thinking they’d be able to take off the next day, but once they caught on that all air traffic would be suspended for a while, they rented a car and drove back to North Carolina.
He had another story about a bird hitting his windshield. That, of course, I was less interested in since there was the off chance that could happen to us. He assured us it was rare.
And getting to sit in the front seat, he allowed me to “steer” the plane. I use quotations because he had steering controls, too, and I didn’t feel like I was doing much steering on my side. Yet, it was fun to pretend.
This, I suppose, was the same thrill the younger versions of me — all 300 of them, according to David Williams of the Young Eagles program, which provided free flights in these planes throughout the day.
Again, it wasn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever done, but it was certainly one of the coolest. And at a time when I’ve been bogged down in work and politics and lack of sleep and politics … Saturday was a much-needed “fun day” for me.
My thanks to the Pedleys and to the folks at Raleigh Exec for putting on such a fun and well-attended event.
I’ll be back next year, aviator shades, bomber jacket, scarf and all.

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