UP AGAINST IT 

UP AGAINST IT

Yeah, we were inverted. Dan McClung was hovering, upside down directly above me, both of us seemingly suspended in air, while he waved vigorously and signaled thumbs up. Right then, my head started to flood with more than blood. Much like they had so many times on my Nintendo and VCR, my mind kept rewinding the images: Kenny Loggins, lots of Kenny Loggins singing about flying into a “Danger Zone.” A Polaroid picture taken from one inverted F14 cockpit. And, of course, Maverick, Goose, and Ice Man. Those were just a few of my thoughts, all images and sounds courtesy of an unnecessary number of viewings of that cinematic classic “Top Gun.” Bulls--t, you say? Well, so did Val Kilmer (Ice Man, for those un-pop-cultured). Alas, having forgotten my camera, I have no inverted mid-air picture for proof like Goose (that “ER” guy) did, only mental snapshots and feelings, all derived from the The Red Eagle Air Show Team’s practice/media ride I participated in. I can only hope to convey second hand the speed, power, and -- during this centennial birthday celebration of the Wright Bros. first 1903 flight -- history on display in the set up stage of the Midsouth Charity Air Show 2003, which will Saturday and Sunday at Millington Municipal Airport. The flying begins both days at 9:30 a.m. Respect. Awe. Out-of-body. And, “the need for speed” that “Mav” spoke of (if you don’t know his character and that he was played by Tom Cruise, or haven’t seen “Top Gun” by now, then I have a few other “talkies” or “moving picture show” suggestions for you). That was what I felt after Buck Roetman, the pilot of the nearly 20-feet wide and long Eagle Talon bi-plane I was passenger in, performed three consecutive, forward loops. Land, sky, and sun. I saw them all thrice in a matter of seconds. With apologies to that other Land south of Millington perpetually celebrating Liberty in Memphis, this ride was a smidgeon better than The Revolution or The Zippin’ Pippin. And, all the while, McClung, a current major commercial airline and former Top Gun pilot who uses his “off” time in the summer to fly the truly high-performance version of the Eagle Talon, circled around Buck and I. He would fly within inches of our wing, then abruptly pull away, and circle us again in seconds. Then, inch in from the other side. Then came the whole inversion thing. I kid you not, McClung and Buck called it the “Top Gun.” McClung slowly descended -- upside down -- to within a few feet of our cockpit canopy. Without the glass, I could have reached up and shook his hand. To think, only 15 minutes before, Buck had been looking for a new engine part for the very bi-plane I rode in. But, such normally heart-, head-, and gut-pounding antics are common for the Red Eagle guys, similar to our daily ho hum navigation through rush hour traffic. “First of all, we all started as pilots, but right now, I see us first as entertainers,” McClung said. “I see us as trying to be role models. So, we are put to a pretty high standard out there. It’s basically choreography,” McClung added. “It’s tantamount to being a high performance athlete. Like when you are standing up facing Roger Clemens. You really aren’t worried about a 100 MPH fastball. You’re thinking about the technique and all the things that you practiced.” So, why look death in the face (or, comparably, “buzz the tower” with “permission denied”) during McClung’s vacation days, while already tackling the ever-increasing stress of flying commercially? “We do it for excitement, we do it for entertainment, and we do it for education, and the education and the charities part of it and the kids is our main emphasis,” McClung said. “We are pretty big into getting youth involved in the Young Eagles program. We try to tell the kids that, ÔYou too can do this.’ All you have to do is stay in school and study hard, and it all will come.” The Experimental Aviation Association’s Young Eagle Program, targeted at children 8-17 years old, was created to reach one million potential young pilots through 2003 and “provide a motivational aviation experience for young people through an actual demonstration flight.” Maybe that makes me the oldest Young Eagle. What I do know is I can now be counted among the already large legion of Blue Angels fans. And, it took all of one synchronized maneuver, in less than a second. The Navy’s renowned Blue Angels, or Blues, the headline performers for the Midsouth Charity Air Show 2003, arrived in Memphis Thursday -- and they made their presence known in style. Flying only hundreds of feet over the runway, all six F18 Hornets passed in Delta formation and, in the time it takes you to finish this sentence, they had abruptly broke off in opposite directions, spinning into those hard 90-degree-angled turns. It was merely a teaser for what the expectedly large air show audiences can expect. “Anytime you in the same air show was a jet team, that will usually bring out anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 more people,” McClung said. “America loves that stuff. And, we all are mostly patriotic kind of people anyway. Especially now (following the war in Iraq), we are at a time our lives when we are really patriotic. I think that we are seeing bigger turnouts for air shows all over the country. “If you didn’t have a good heartfelt feeling about America, then something is wrong,” McClung added. “More people are realizing that freedom didn’t come without any cost at all. It’s kind of fun to see.” Of course, there some of you out there who don’t see the fun. For the Top Gun-style “going down in flames” liberals, this air show is just another representation of what’s wrong with America. A showcase for how we continue spend billions on defense weapons and foreign wars, while there are homeless, uneducated, starving, poor .... So what? That’s what I ask, though, I agree that there sometimes can be too much Cowboy-style handling of international problems. Still, if you got it, flaunt it. Show off how powerful the human mind can be, and the technology that has made this country the most remarkable in history. That’s the American way. If you like such displays of patriotism, and aerial velocity and omnipotence, then have fun at the Midsouth Charity Air Show when flying starts at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. If not, then go live in whatever country fosters the always unidentified jets “Mav” a.k.a “Pete Mitchell” and the rest of the “Top Gun” boys are always dogfighting. Those guys, much like the French, seem to be good at getting their asses kicked.

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