Ace Hole

“Pull back! Harder! More! MORE! That’s it! Tighten your stomach. Keep your eye on him! LEFT! Keep pulling back, but push the stick to your left knee!”

Upside down, banking left in the middle of a vertical loop – a barrel roll attack or an Immelmann. i had no fucking clue. Head back, looking up through the canopy as my eyes watered, i was trying like hell to keep track of the other plane – which was doing the same sort of maneuver. Pulling over 4 g’s.

It wasn’t the fear of death that was chewing on me. It was the fear of failure. The instructor pilots fly these “missions” three times a day, or more. Thousands of hours experience. They’re not going to let an ego-driven derp, with more money than common sense, do something stupid and wreck one of their sexy Marchetti SF-260’s.

When i realized we were going to be ‘scored’ on our dogfighting skills? That’s when i got a bit puckered. Why? Because i don’t know how to fly a damn plane!

“He got you! But you hung in there! Level out a bit, catch your breath. OK. I’ve got the plane.” i looked back and caught a glimpse of theatrical smoke coming out of the tail of my plane.

Not exactly what i was expecting when i drunkenly raised a paddle at a charity auction last February. What was i expecting? Not upside down, three-dimensional combat, with my hand on the damn stick! Not a fur ball over Lake Erie!

The day started with our “Mission Briefing”. i met my “opponent”, Dennis, as he arrived with his father-in-law. JR, our instructor pilot, asked us both what brought us to the briefing room on that particular day.

Dennis: My wife bought me this as a gift!

daisyfae: Jack Daniels.

JR: Yeah. We get a lot of referrals from Mr. Daniels…

JR briefed us on basics of safety, including how to use a parachute. Fundamental Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM), specifically basic fighter maneuvers. We were instructed how to maintain 500’ clearance, and how to hold our opponent in the gun sight before firing. The flight plan included formation flying on the way to the operation zone and tactics – trading altitude for airspeed, avoiding overshoot. After two practice dogfights, we would be engaging in four freestyle fur balls.


JR used two toy planes on sticks to show us how to execute the maneuvers. They were cute. At first, i tried really hard to track and internalize what he was saying about “angle of attack”, and the proper method to perform a Low Yo-Yo. After about 10 minutes, i started to think about whether the sanitary undergarment i had put on under my flight suit would be sufficient to contain what i’d eaten for breakfast that morning…

what was i thinking

When i bought the Air Combat package, Studley (the world’s most amazing wingman) briefly considered buying one as well, so we could play together. After further thought, he realized i might need a driver… and that as a licensed pilot, he had a lot more to lose by a shitty performance… He also figured it would be fun to watch.

Off we go

It was out to the planes.  i’d already put on my true safety gear before getting into my flight suit.  For what it’s worth, these things are quite comfortable!  Good to know, i guess…

D Ring

Additional safety gear included a parachute and life vest.  “That’s your ‘D-ring’.  No!  Don’t pull it right now!  Only if I say ‘Bail, bail, bail!'”

  grease 'er up

With a little bit of WD-40 and a crowbar, my instructor pilot, Smudge, corked my lardass into the itty bitty cockpit.  Left seat. Yeah. Totally didn’t expect that either…

It was a stunningly gorgeous day – and we launched in formation out to the ‘battle zone’, 16 miles north of Cleveland over Lake Erie. Once we cleared the pattern for takeoff, Smudge informed me that it was my turn to fly the plane.

“Just follow Dennis. Stay to the right and down.”

Simple enough, in theory. i couldn’t do it. Tiny movements of the stick led to gigantic movements of the plane. i had expected the stick to sort of be ‘neutral’. Nope. For all 16 miles i was bouncing around, trying to stay stable. It occurred to me that if i couldn’t manage this simple task, doing anything more complicated was going to be impossible.

We did some basic tracking and targeting. Then the High/Low Yo-Yo maneuvers. These were fun. Diving speeds you up, so you work the angles in all three dimensions. Swoop back up, and drop right down on his tail.

Maybe i could do this?

We rolled into the dogfights. i lost the first one – totally surprised at the intensity of that whole ‘upside down’ thing. For the second round, i decided to put my mind on hold and listen to Smudge, who was telling me exactly what to do. “Pull back”, “Hard left”, “Nose down”, “Track”, “SHOOT!”

i got him. Smoke from the ass end of his plane. “Shack!”


Two more rounds. i won the next fight. Dennis wore me down after an extended battle for the fourth. By the time he finally hit me? i was relieved. Having done at least three vertical loops in a row? i was wrung out.  Time to head back. 

“It’s your plane. Just keep your nose down a little bit, and aim to the right of downtown. Can you see the airport? Make an easy turn so we’re flying parallel to the runway.”

Without realizing it, i was now flying the plane – steady and level – and getting us back to the airport. How the hell did THAT happen?


We landed, taxied back to the apron. Shaking hands with Dennis, we went inside for the ‘mission debriefing’ – which, in my case, included removing my completely un-soiled undergarment!. Watching the cockpit videos was a little bit surreal. “i just did that? Whoa…”

Studley drove home, as i was still a bit rattled even an hour after getting out of the cockpit. We had a chance to do a bit of a post-game analysis in the car.

What i spent on that “charitable donation” would have gone a long way toward becoming a pilot. It would have at least paid for my “Pinch Hitter” course – how to land a plane in an emergency.

The flight was fun, and definitely exciting. But it wasn’t on my bucket list. That’s because i don’t actually have a bucket list. i put this in the category of “contrived thrills” – where all risk is managed, and you pay money for an adrenaline rush, and a chance to say “I did that! Woo Hoo!”.

It required no skill. There really wasn’t much risk. When you get down to it? Not much different from bungee jumping, or doing a tandem parachute jump. i have done neither of those activities, nor do i wish to…

Excitement? Of course. Growth as a human being? Not so much…

As we worked through this in the car, Studley asked if i’d do it again.

daisyfae: Probably not. i mean, it was pretty amazing. But…. It was a stunt. What about you? You were getting pretty jazzed during the mission briefing!

Studley: I might think about it….

daisyfae: i would probably do it with you… but i think i want to learn to fly first.

33 thoughts on “Ace Hole

  1. Huge smiles. Thank you. I am very, very glad that you enjoyed it (and that your sanitary protection remained pristine).
    Growth as a human being? Oh yes, appreciation of fun counts. Although that gene is well and truly developed in your psyche (and body). Swimming in Antarctica didn’t lead to my growth (shrivelling closer to the mark) but I am beyond glad that when the chance arose I took it in both hands.

    • in that sense, i did learn something – and that i at least need to recognize when i’m doing a stunt and when i’m doing something that pushes me into something more substantive… Swimming in Antartica? that’s the sort of opportunity one probably shouldn’t pass up… but i’d have to think about that, as i hate cold water!

  2. Well, that’s an honest appraisal. A lot of people would bore the pants off listeners, increasing the
    talk-up at each telling.
    You did. That’s what really counts.Now, maybe , a Piper Cherokee or something for real?

    • i suppose i could blow it up into a near-death experience or something, but that just wouldn’t fly (*giggle* – sometimes i crack myself up!) Studley and i are discussing rental of the Cherokee for any future lessons… might happen! i’m at least going to get trained to land the damn thing! Safely, that is… i could probably land it now, but it wouldn’t end well.

  3. Hey, you did good. You braved it, and won half the dogfights. What more can you ask? BTW, it would have taken more than WD-40 and a crowbar to get my ass into the cockpit. Fifth of Mr. Daniels, 1,000mg of Ativan, cargo net, 55 gallon barrel of industrial strength lubricant, etc.

    • i’m glad i did it, but still unsure if i would do it again – knowing what i know now. honestly, after the first moment of getting wedged in there (and Smudge isn’t a little guy either), i forgot about my size. There were more important things to think about! Like keeping my eye on the other plane!

  4. Congratulations, DaisyFae! You are now a pilot, jg. I don’t fly hardly at all these days, for a variety of reasons, but I have never regretted earning the ticket. Go for it!

    • Hi, Yogi! Always delighted when you stop by! i forgot that you’re licensed! i think i just need to do it… one of those ‘apocalypse’ skills. if you REALLY want to get away from zombies? get in a damn plane! they might be able to run, and potentially walk under water, but i’m pretty sure they’re never going to fly!

    • In hindsight, a shot back in the flight prep room might have been a good idea! Typically, though, there isn’t often alcohol associated with flight ops — they take that “8 hours bottle to throttle” bit pretty seriously! We hopped in the car and headed home as soon as the flight debriefing was over – looooong drive home!

    • Oh, you are quite the sweet talkin’ silver tongued divil, aren’t you, Chef? You can’t fool me, though… i know you’re still fantasizing about me doing a bit of crop dusting… Dirty, dirty boy…

  5. Fantastic! However not something I’d try given my vertigo issues, sometimes I have to turn away or close my eyes from spinning stuff on the tv in case I get an attack! I’d have been no good and would have thrown up everywhere!!!

  6. I’m one of those who admires your assessment: Contrived thrill requiring no actual skill. That being said, there is something to be said for experiencing your limits, and finding out you can expand them. I would say that you learned something very valuable: When you are doing something that you don’t really know how to do, it is useful to be able to set your ego and your fears aside and Follow Directions.

    Thanks for the fun, fun reportage of what was probably a grandly fun afternoon.

    And I am NOT surprised that you did not soil your adult protective garment.

    • At this point in my life, i have to call my own bullshit – and this was a classic! i’m lucky to have enough discretionary income to do the things i do… even the occasional ego-driven indulgence.

      Your ‘lesson’ is a good one! Hadn’t looked at it quite that way – it was instinctive. Had i continued to try to do it on my own, it would have ended with more frustration. And it was fun. Nothing wrong with that, either!

  7. As others have said–a welcome honest assessment. I don’t understand any of these pursuits, when everyday social life is a playground far more exciting, and with far more serious consequences, than jumping off cliffs and so on.

    If you assess it in terms of simple fun though, it sounds great! I’d love to do it.

    • with a full week between me and the flight? can’t say it becomes any more significant… it was good, goofy and expensive fun! on to the next adventure – which can be as simple as navigating the waters of complex, multi-dimensional relationships with minimal collateral damage! or just stealing a golf cart at a local festival…

  8. Yeah. I’d make it as far as the “how to use a parachute” instructions. Then I head for the DOOR.

    Can you imagine doing this shit for real?! As if your life depended on it?

    You typically don’t see “stunningly gorgeous day” and “Cleveland over Lake Erie” in the same sentence. You were very lucky.

    It’s nice that this was born from a charitable act but I’m betting you got a lot more out of it than your typical charitable deduction.

    • it wasn’t particularly brave. i knew it was safe – the illusion of danger. the guys who do this for real are shit hot, and batshit crazy, in my opinion. how they can tell up from down, and manage to avoid knocking into each other in the middle of all that shit is a mystery to me…

      charity-wise? it’s a definite selfish win. i give away a good bit of money every year… have started to focus on smaller local things, as well as buying fun shit at charity auctions. self-serving? you bet.

    • it’s weird how the brain works. i knew there was very little risk of death or injury. likewise, i also knew that there was a substantial probability of getting my ass kicked. hierarchy of needs, of a sort…

      you might surprise yourself. with your love of aviation? you might go all ‘she devil’ in the cockpit…

  9. I never thought I would care about flying but this kinda makes me want to fly – especially the part about getting away from the zombies. I see them everywhere now and figure it is only a matter of time before they start stalking me.

    • Thanks for stopping by, David! If you see zombies everywhere, you must work at a large institution, or be a member of congress…

      Flying won’t solve all zombie problems – you’ll still need to refuel, and eat, and land every now and then for supplies. But i think it simply increases options, and that’s always a good plan…

    • although i adore roller coasters, most amusement park rides – especially those that go in circles – make me very sick. i don’t care for vomiting either… and was relieved that my instructor pilot saved the aileron roll (corkscrew thingie) for last. i’d have gotten sick if he’d have done it again…

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