Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

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 ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor plan to bring a beer hall and cafe to East Liberty.

New Venue Added to Pittsburgh's Cinema in the Park Series

See what's playing this summer in a Pittsburgh park near you.

The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars series experiments with telling an origin story, with mixed results.

What's a ‘Spark’ and Why Should Pittsburghers Care?

Sparks are relatively young — the concept for them first popped up in San Francisco in 2005. They’ve just recently appeared in other U.S. cities, including our neighbors on the other side of the state.

Third Place on 'American Idol,' First Place in the Steel City

Munhall high school student Gabby Barrett finished in third place last night on ABC’s reboot of “American Idol.”

From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

Local interior designer Lauren Levant traveled to Italy for the influential Salon del Mobile show featuring the latest innovations in the furniture and design industry. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, these are the kitchen concepts she says will be making their way stateside.

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As of a film, there are issues.

Popular Peter's Pub Announces Final “Last Call”

The owners of the Oakland Avenue bar announced on Facebook they have decided to retire -- but are planning one last “hoorah.”

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Looking for a Royal Wedding Watch Party in Pittsburgh?

With the ceremony just hours away, several watch parties and live screenings of the nuptials have already sold out. But we found a few more places in Pittsburgh still taking guests whose invitations got lost in the mail.

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Sunrise, Sunset: Pittsburgh Playhouse's Second Act

The curtain is closing this month on the historical Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland, but it will rise again when Point Park University this fall unveils its new theater Downtown, a space with a history of its own.

A Matter of Pride: Delta Foundation's Struggles with Success

Within the span of 10 years, the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh has brought the city’s annual Pride festival to previously unimaginable heights. That growth, however, has left some members of the community behind — and unhappy.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


New Venue Added to Pittsburgh's Cinema in the Park Series

New Venue Added to Pittsburgh's Cinema in the Park Series

See what's playing this summer in a Pittsburgh park near you.

Comments

What's a ‘Spark’ and Why Should Pittsburghers Care?

What's a ‘Spark’ and Why Should Pittsburghers Care?

Sparks are relatively young — the concept for them first popped up in San Francisco in 2005. They’ve just recently appeared in other U.S. cities, including our neighbors on the other side of the state.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor plan to bring a beer hall and cafe to East Liberty.

Comments

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

Comments

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

Looking to switch up your physical activity now that it finally feels like spring? We found four sports you can play locally that you may never have considered.

Comments


Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Comments

Phipps Summer Show is Bizarre and Essential

Phipps Summer Show is Bizarre and Essential

At "Gardens of Sound and Motion," Phipps offers giants, living sculptures and more oddities.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Comments

Penguins’ Epitaph: So Close and Yet So Far Away

Penguins’ Epitaph: So Close and Yet So Far Away

To win the Stanley Cup Championship you have to be good, but you also have to be lucky. The Penguins weren’t enough of either this time.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars series experiments with telling an origin story, with mixed results.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As of a film, there are issues.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

Comments

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

It was always Ashley Watkins’ dream to have her grandfather perform her wedding ceremony — but a serious illness almost got in the way.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

Local interior designer Lauren Levant traveled to Italy for the influential Salon del Mobile show featuring the latest innovations in the furniture and design industry. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, these are the kitchen concepts she says will be making their way stateside.

Comments

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Thinking about starting a creative business but don't know where to start? From photography to interior design, Gamechangers, the new podcast from local textile designer Savannah Hayes, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the design industry from the female perspective.

Comments