By RUSSELL VINEYARD
Baker City Herald
Have you ever seen Baker City upside down?
It is just as beautiful, though it may be hard to appreciate the view while you're trying to hold in your breakfast.
"OK, now I'm going to do a barrel roll," Pilot Tim Decker said just before he spun the Pitts S-2B stunt plane upside down.
The view, though temporary, was spectacular.
"Now we we'll just go upside down for a bit," he said.
Flying 800 feet above ground in a plane that has flipped over is one
thing most people will likely never do. Most would be thankful for
that. Others will be envious of those who have.
For a brief moment the Baker Tower seemed to hang there, suspended over my head.
Between bursts of laughter at the thought of what was happening, I took notice of the Baker High School track. Just a black circle sitting above my head.
I looked down, or rather up, at the parachute I was wearing. My first thought at having to put the thing on was of how frightened I was at the notion of jumping out of an airplane.
I thought about the procedure Decker made me memorize before we took off Friday morning from the Baker City Municipal Airport.
"If I say to jump out, you unbuckle your seatbelt, then your redundant belt, then climb out of the plane and jump away. Then you have the rest of your life to pull the handle," he said.
The rest of my life.
For a moment, while suspended upside down, I wondered how long that would have been.
Then, before I could give it a second thought, Decker did something I was not exactly prepared for.
With a sudden burst of acceleration, the plane took a nose dive, and the only view in front of me was looking down at the Power of the Past Ranch on Highway 86.
There wasn't even time enough to ponder what had just happened before the plane began to level out.
"Now I'm going to do what is called a Hammerhead Stall. Crop dusters use this to turn around quickly," Decker said
Mel Cross, the longtime organizer of the Wings Over Baker air show, for which Decker was one of the performers, had told me about his experience with this particular maneuver.
"I was up with a pilot and was doing fine," Cross told me before my flight Friday. "Then he started doing the Hammerhead Stall. I had to ask him to level out for a second to let my stomach settle."
This aerobatic stunt did something to my body that I have never experienced. My stomach went to say hello to my brain while my lungs visited my feet. I'm still not sure where my heart decided to go.
Then Decker lined the plane up with the runway.
This is the point when I started regretting that second cup of coffee.
The plane suddenly aimed for the sky, the engine sputtered, the plane flipped over and over.
Ground, sky, ground, sky.
But just as quick, I found myself heading back the way I had come.
After leveling off I began to feel my stomach settle.
But I wasn't done, I had experienced something fun and wanted more.
"Do a barrel roll," I shouted over the noise of the engine.
And the plane spun around and around.
Decker then told me about the next stunt on his list.
"OK, this last one not a lot of civilian pilots can do, but I can do it pretty well," he said.
"Wait," I thought.
"Only pretty well?"
But that was as far as the thought went before the plane was pointing at the sky again. And just as suddenly the plane was going straight down and spinning.
Farms and ranches and runways were circling my view.
This is the point when I started regretting that first cup of coffee.
Spinning and spinning and spiralling downward, the Earth doing circles around me.
The engine was sputtering and for the first time since we took off, I could actually see the prop moving.
One blade, two blades, three blades.
I began saying words that would have resulted in a mouth-washing if my mother heard. And of course, I thought about the parachute procedure.
"You have the rest of your life to pull the handle."
Without warning I was pushed into the cushion of my seat. I felt the plane leveling out and the Wallowa Mountains were in my view.
Then my body settled back to its natural position. My stomach went back to where I was accustomed it being and my lungs and heart took their respective places back in my chest.
I began to relax.
"OK, now we are going to head in. When we land, the plane will be leaning to the left and we'll be slightly crooked. I have to do this so I can see," Decker said.
At that very moment I began to remember what he said about his experience as a pilot.
He has more than 5,500 hours flying. I had no real idea what that meant since I am not a pilot, but it sounded impressive.
Decker is a retired Air Force pilot. His experience flying was in both civilian and military planes. He has flown U-2s, F-117s, T-38s, RV-4s and the Pitts special.
The landing was exactly how he said it would be. We were tilted slightly and were crooked. It wasn't even an uncomfortable landing. It wasn't the most pleasant landing I have encountered, but it certainly wasn't the worst.
When the plane made it safely to a stop and my feet felt the asphalt beneath, I felt disappointed that the ride was over.
"Let's do it again," I said, sounding like a 7-year-old child after riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland for the third time.
But Decker was busy tending to his plane, preparing for the show.