Friendlier Skies

PittGirl faces her fear of flying with the help of the Air National Guard.



If you ask my 10-year-old son to imitate me during airplane takeoffs or turbulence, he will sit down, wrap his arms around his waist, tuck his head snugly between his knees and chant, “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”

I’m fully aware of my mortality; therefore, hurtling through the air 30,000 feet above the ground at speeds approaching warp-drive miles per hour while shackled to a reportedly flotation-capable cushion in an aluminum canister of fiery death causes me weeks of stress before departure.

One time, I even gave myself a diagnosable case of IBS from the stress of an approaching flight. My doctor said it was acute sissiness and stage-4 fraidy-cat-edness. On a plane, every bump is the end times, every knock is catastrophic engine failure, and every landing is a cry out to Jesus to spare me.

If I were smarter, I would do what my older sister does: Valium. She pops one before takeoff, and 10 minutes in, she’s absentmindedly eating cookies between unexpected five-second, mouth-gaping naps. Valium is her co-pilot.

When the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard invited me to take a flight with its pilots while they demonstrated their in-air refueling capabilities, my lips said “Yes!” without any hesitation … and my brain said, “So this is how you’re going to die. My money was on a Nutella overdose.”

I hugged my kids and husband extra tight the morning of the flight, and showed up at the base for a pre-flight briefing. I settled in to learn about the 171st, the route we would take and the men who would be holding our lives in their hands. They’re guardsmen, engineers and teachers who dedicate one weekend a month to serving their country and training for missions.

I learned what an asset the 171st is to not only Pittsburgh’s economy, but to the U.S. military as well. I almost forgot about my fear of flying ... until we were informed the KC-135T Stratotanker we would be flying in was more than 50 years old. I resisted the urge to tuck my head between my knees right there in the auditorium. I like my planes young, and here I was about to step on a plane as old as my mother. (No offense, Mom.)

Once on the plane with 10 other guests and three pilots, we were told what to do if there was a loss of pressure (Me: “Panic.”), and how we would exit the plane should there be an emergency (Me: “With our heads bowed and in our hands while chanting, ‘Oh, God. Oh, God.’”).

I looked those men in their eyes. They stood with their shoulders sure and their stance wide. They exuded an unmistakable sense of calm. I buckled into a bench alongside the wall. We roared down the runway and up into the blue sky. And I was unafraid.

I had no need to deposit my face in my knees because these men were military, and they had trained to always be on the ready. I drank in the blue skies and puffy clouds.

Then as we were flying over Ohio at 450 miles per hour, an Air Force jet approached the rear of our plane and flew steadily near the tail to await a practice refueling. In commercial flights, two planes flying within a mile of each other is considered a “close call.” I was looking the jet pilot in his eyeballs.

I turned to the airman next to me and said, “I’m normally afraid to fly. I’m not right now.”

He nodded. “Because it’s us.”

Right. Because it’s them.

They let me sit in the cockpit while landing the plane safely back in Pittsburgh. They can have a plane in the air, if need be, within minutes. It’s they who have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. They look after families and hold jobs alongside their service to their country. They took me up, brought me back and erased my fear.

For now.

But if you’re flying out of Pittsburgh on a commercial flight in the near future, I’ll be the girl with her face in her knees sitting next to a 10-year-old boy who’s saying, “It’s going to be OK, Mom. Planes make that noise all the time.”

Oh, God.

Can I just fly with the 171st for the rest of my life?

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Rightsizing PIT - Will Landside Terminal, Tram Be Needed?

Rightsizing PIT - Will Landside Terminal, Tram Be Needed?

Big changes are expected as the Allegheny Airport Authority draws up a new master plan for the 25-year-old midfield terminal.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Watch: Pittsburgh's Italian Chefs Cook Up an Amazing BBQ

Watch: Pittsburgh's Italian Chefs Cook Up an Amazing BBQ

The fire-cooked meal organized by Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino, included dishes prepared by chefs from Pittsburgh’s Italian restaurant community.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

The tacos-and-tequila bar and restaurant on the South Side doesn't do anything wrong, exactly, but has room to grow.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

As the team prepares the inaugural class of its Hall of Honor, Mike Prisuta selects the four members of the Steelers family most deserving of inclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville put together this chic outfit for the tricky period when summer cools into autumn.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Popping the Question Far Away from Home

Popping the Question Far Away from Home

Three grooms share how they carried their rings long distances to keep their brides-to-be in the dark until the moment they got on one knee.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Bombs Away: Arsenal 201 Apartments Open After Cannonball Removal

Bombs Away: Arsenal 201 Apartments Open After Cannonball Removal

Months after the Civil War-era cannonballs were discovered at the former arsenal and munitions factory in Lawrenceville, residents are given the green light to move into the 243-unit apartment complex.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module