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Reporter straps in for ride with stunt pilot


Staff Writer

"OK, flyboy — bring it on!," I mutter through clenched teeth as air show performer Greg Poe helps strap on my parachute, "I can take all you've got."

It is Friday morning and I am about to go airborne with Poe, in town to take part in the annual air show at Naval Air Facility El Centro the following day.

Earlier in the week I'd been enthusiastic about interviewing Poe, a world-famous aeronautical performance flyer from Boise, Idaho. It was only when I realized the interview process would involve flying with him that my enthusiasm waned a little.


A Monday morning call to his booking coordinator in Boise had not been altogether reassuring. The first words out of Joel York's mouth were "So, do you like roller coaster rides?"

One of the new breed of high-performance air show pilots, Poe and a select cadre of others like him arguably have their origins in the early American aviators who became known as barnstormers.

Barnstormers appeared on the scene in 1910 at the inaugural American Air Show in Los Angeles.

Famous for their death-defying stunts, barnstorming teams would loop-the-loop, put their planes in downward spirals and generally scare the heck out of the crowds below.

I did a little homework on the guy and was reassured to read in his press release that the Boise flyboy had been at it for 29 years and had racked up 5,000 hours in 100 different aircraft types.

I logged onto his Web site and read that "Greg is working hard on a daily basis inventing and perfecting new maneuvers."

Excuse me? Inventing and perfecting? "He can do that solo, numero uno, on his own — can't I just stay back on terra firma and write the story from that vantage point?" I whine pathetically to copy editor Richard Montenegro on Tuesday. He laughs mercilessly.

"Sometimes you have to get a physical before you go up in one of those things; at your age you'd better check into that," Montenegro says, still laughing mercilessly as he walks away.

Delving further into the Web site, I'd discovered Poe's idea of an intensely good time is to subject his corporeal being to 10-11 Gs and "push 5-6 negative" on any given day.

Not understanding the concept of pushing 5-6 negative, I figured it was probably a safe bet it was not something you could achieve at home with a Bow Flex machine.

At another point in the Web site, I discover the term vertical flight. Normal people are happy flying horizontally. By any rationale, people who want to fly vertically cannot be considered normal, well-adjusted citizenry. But short of being abducted by an alien life force or managing to snag an interview with Elvis, there was no way I could back out of doing the story.

Now it was Friday and we were taxiing out to the end of the runway. "OK, looks like we're ready to launch," are the last words I hear Poe say into my headset before we zoom down the runway and take off.

Minutes into the flight over an incredibly green and hauntingly beautiful Imperial Valley, it wasn't all that different from riding the LAX-SFO shuttle, minus the peanuts.

Getting to work, I start to interview Poe but he's not having any of my comparing him to the early barnstormers and their antics.

"I am none of those things — I'm known as the mother hen on the air show circuit. I am not a daredevil," he says emphatically.

We both fall silent for a moment, just enjoying the serenity of a sunny day about the earth and watching the Salton Sea come up ahead of us. It's then that Poe casually asks if I'd care to join him in a roll — a 360 degree roll, to be exact.

I'd truly love to report I jumped at the chance with alacrity — but I didn't. I mumbled a vague "maybe" into my headset and left it at that.

Poe, being the gentleman he is, would have left it at that too had I insisted. But we sort of negotiated the issue a bit and I settled on a roll, but with eyes closed for the first go around.

For the second roll, I kept my eyes open and I have to tell you, it is very, very cool to have an up-side-down Mount Signal rushing toward you at a rapid rate of knots.

Whew! Now I was psyched! Bring it on, Flyboy! I was beginning to understand the mindset of those early Greek honchos, Daedalus and his buddy Icarus, who glued feathers to their arms and jumped off that tower on the island of Crete. This was living life out loud! Arriba! Arriba!

"So now you're comfortable up here, how about we look at going vertical for a bit?" Poe suggests. I could feel instant brain freeze coming on. The man was talking about flying vertically for an interminable amount of time, then flipping over backward to complete an inverted loop.

Understandably, the conversation see-sawed back and forth a bit and in the end I agreed to go vertical, if only to disappoint my co-workers back in the newsroom who were presumably taking bets I'd wimp out on the deal.

"Now we'll need to get up a little speed and we'll go just a little vertical at first so you can get an idea what the gravitational force feels like," Poe may have said.

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