"Do not pull this cord while you are inside the plane or your parachute WILL open. If the plane catches on fire, YOU have to grab the fire extinguisher...there it is. If we need to jump for any reason you will here me say 3 words, BAIL OUT, BAIL OUT, BAIL OUT!"
The potent words of survival were coming from Pilot Andrew McKenna as I was being strapped into the "Pamela Marie", his T-6 Texan Fighter WW II Vintage Warbird.
After 30 years of being alive I was preparing myself for flying in an airplane for only the second time; the first was about 45 minutes prior to this flight.
It was media day for the Wings, Wheels & Warriors Airshow and I found myself snugly fit in a WW II aircraft over 60 years old, staring at gauges, pedal brakes, levers, the back of Andrew's head, and, of course, the fire extinguisher which I was quickly developing a hatred for.
Along with never flying, I've never operated a fire extinguisher either. I was eagerly anticipating getting up into the air but at the same time absolutely dreading the site of the extinguisher.
Deep breath after another settled my nerves only a smidgen. I was moments away from taking off from Manassas Airport and joining formation with two additional aircraft, an L-39 Albatros and the hero plane of WW II, the P-51 Mustang.
All three planes were parked right beside each other on the tarmac as I soaked in the moment. Then, the Pamela Marie made her presence felt; her single propeller revved up, the distinct smell of fuel surrounded me and we began moving towards the runway.
At this point it's too late to back out, what am I going to do, ask Andrew to turn this thing around and drop me off at Gate C?
As we approached the runway and the inevitable take-off, I listened as the pilots communicated with air traffic control. With all the recent stories of drowsy air traffic controllers I prayed that everyone received a good night's sleep.
Then we sat. Planes were cleared to land on the runway and we had to wait our turn; what was a 10-15 minute wait, seemed like an eternity but then it was on.
The Albatros and Mustang took off first and we were closely behind. The Pamela Marie picked up speed and before you knew it we were off into the wild blue yonder.
Bright green treetops resembled lush broccoli crowns, railroad tracks and roadways rolled for miles, creeks crossed through counties, and me and the Blue Ridge were seeing eye-to-eye as we joined up with the other aircraft to fly over Manassas Airport three times.
Simply breathtaking as we merged into one group of three, all thoughts of the fire extinguisher vanished into the clouds.
Floating, flying, soaring high up into the sky I was on the most extreme ride of my life.
There was no need for "barrel rolls" or long back flips because my mind and body were already performing those.
I looked to the right, and sharing air space just yards away from the Pamela Marie's wingtip was the P-51. I glanced to the left and there was the L-39 situated the same way, there were scattered clouds in the sky but I found myself sitting on cloud nine!
We made our fly-by's and before I knew it we were heading in for the landing.
Andrew gently landed the Pamela Marie as I a gave the extinguisher a flirty smirk.
The moment was a tad bittersweet, elated we made it safely to the ground but wished I could stay up there forever.
There is not enough thank you's to send to Chris Lawson. The former Marine and extremely active volunteer for the Wings, Wheels and Warriors Airshow made this unforgettable experience possible.
But just as I thought my day of buzzing around the sky was over, Chris hooked me up one last time with an unbelievable ride in a helicopter!
Chris also informed me that the airshow attracted roughly 5,000 people and raised $23,000 for the Wounded Warriors Aviation Group.
You can view videos & photos of my take-off, pre-take off, planes converging, and the landing from this epic experience.
Learn more about the plane I flew in here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_T-6_Texan