Looking back on my first ride in a small airplane, I must have seemed nervous.
“How old is this plane, again?” I asked for a second time.
Really I just wanted to make sure to get the date right if I wrote about it later. I wasn’t concerned about the age of the plane. In fact, it was pretty darn cool. But I imagine the pilot, RW Estela, may have thought otherwise, especially when I followed the question up with, “How long have you been flying?”
I really wanted to know! I wasn’t concerned about his skills as a pilot. I’d heard that he was a well-known seasoned pilot from my co-workers at the BDN — and LinkedIn. I was truly just curious, but those two sentences combined painted me a nervous passenger.
Maybe the grin on my face convinced RW otherwise. As the engine fired up and my sheepskin covered seat began to tremble, I fixed my headset so the microphone was right up to my lips, as RW had instructed, so we could talk to each other while up in the air without shouting over the noise of the small, two-seat plane.
It was a Cessna 140, built in 1948, and as it lifted up into the sky over Old Town Airport, I felt like we were floating. It felt nothing like the lift-off of a big passenger plane, the only other thing I could compare it to. Later, a friend described riding in a small plane as feeling like “riding a bicycle up in the sky,” and that seems accurate to me.
RW, like many Mainers, wears many hats. But for that particular day — June 14 — he had offered to show me the course for the upcoming Penobscot River Whitewater Nationals Regatta during a 10-minute flight. I was writing a story about the races, and the flight helped me better understand the challenges racers would be facing. And, to be honest, I’d never had the opportunity to fly in a small plane before. I wasn’t about to say no.
As we flew just 80 feet above ground over the curvy waterway, RW instructed me to keep my eyes moving and not look through the viewfinder of my camera. If I kept my eyes in one place for too long, I would likely become ill. Look at the horizon, he said, then something closer, then out far again. I tried to do as he said.
Flying south to Veazie, we stuck beside the river and RW pointed out the different rapids of the course: Shad Rips, Basin Mills Rapids, Great Works Rapids and Veazie Rapids. The flight gave me one perspective, and later, a canoe paddle on the river with race committee member Clayton Cole gave me another.
About mid-flight, I asked RW about how he photographs mountains and other landmarks from the sky, as he often does.
“What kind of camera do you use?” I asked him.
A handheld camera, he replied, similar to mine (but likely much nicer). Then, to my surprise, he opened the window beside him and explained that he photographs out the window. I’m sure I looked at him with some wide eyes as the wind whistled into the plane.
Back on the runway, after RW had landed the plane, I admitted I felt a bit queazy. But hey, at least I didn’t vomit! I get car sick pretty pretty easily, I told him with a grin.
“I’m glad you didn’t tell me that before the flight,” he said. “But I had a bag for you just in case.”