Flying with an Aviation Legend
Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend an hour and a half with Patty Wagstaff, an hour of which was in the sky. So what was it like? In a word, amazing. But in attempting to describe “the moment”, it was amazing for some reasons you wouldn’t expect. When you think of Patty Wagstaff, you might think of her cockpit videos of thrilling airshow performances, her accomplishments including her three national aerobatics championships, or the fact that one of her planes is in the National Air and Space Museum. Indeed those are among the reasons I contacted Patty, but my personal experience was much more interesting and insightful. My experience was the perfect celebration of flying.
Having read her book, I had some insight into what she might be like as a person. She is calm, patient, and friendly. We began with a discussion of what I hoped to get from the flight. She asked specifically what my interest was in aerobatics. My answer was that I was hoping for a memorable moment with a champion. I could go anywhere to fly aerobatics, but this was all about flying with Patty Wagstaff. Oh, and hopefully at modest “G”s since I am a novice. Her patience was appreciated during pre-flight. I kept getting my parachute straps and seat belt harness confused. She calmly straightened me out and we were soon taxiing out for our flight.
You would not expect a routine takeoff with Patty. She applied power to the Extra 300L and we were soon airborne. From the book, I learned she likes to fly low. We proceeded down the runway at an altitude of around 50 feet for 3,000 feet or so and then up we went almost vertical pulling 3 Gs. Yes! What fun! The guys in the tower at Northeast Florida Regional Airport must love watching her takeoff.
From there, it is about 20 miles south to the practice area over Matanzas Inlet. It was graceful and serene. Our altitude was around 2,000 feet, the same as the puffy scattered clouds. “Isn’t this beautiful!”, she commented more than once. It truly was. The clouds beside us and the beach and ocean below were like flying through a beautiful piece of artwork.
Time for some fun. “Let’s do a half cuban 8”, declared the captain. I soon realized something special about flying in an exceptional airplane with an exceptional pilot. Power and precision. Aerobatic maneuvers are what the powerful Extra 300L was built for. And as for the pilot, precision is simply second nature. So into an inside loop we went! Over the top inverted through 5/8 of the loop to 45 degrees then a half roll back from inverted. All marks seemed dead-on, effortless, and for Patty, just muscle memory. The same for a full loop. The same for an aileron roll. The same for a hammerhead. The graceful and precise execution of these basic aerobatic maneuvers helped me appreciate and respect Patty’s skill first hand.
Time for more fun. As we worked our way back to the north, we searched for dolphins over the water, then descended to 150 feet to skirt the breaking waves just off the beach. Did I mention Patty likes to fly low? People on the beach were waving as we flew by and I was waving back. Someone stuck his arms out and did a wagging maneuver so Patty obliged by wagging the wings. What a blast!
It was over all too soon. But the "moment" was more than just the sheer fun of aerobatics. I so much appreciated sharing Patty's love of being in the air, away from it all, skirting the clouds, exploring the dolphins, skimming over the waves, and all that flying has to offer. I had a sense that she is in that "moment" every time she flies. I will always cherish the experience.
Watch a movie of my flight with Patty Wagstaff at: