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A Nomad’s Notes: ‘Let’s do this!’

That’s what I said Sunday as the Ford Tri-Motor NC9645 began its takeoff from Cape Fear Regional Jetport for a 12-minute flight over Oak Island.

I have to thank my coworker Laura Lewis for letting this happen. Being well-ingratiated in the business means she gets emails of all kinds. About two weeks ago, she forwarded us an email from the Experimental Aircraft Association inviting media to fly in a historical Ford Tri-Motor that was originally built in 1928 and delivered to its first owner, Transcontinental Air Transport, on Jan. 18, 1929. I immediately freaked out and email-begged my editor Jackie Torok to let me go, just as I did when I learned media were invited to see Aug. 21’s eclipse from a boat. Of course, she gave me permission.

And I also want to thank my sister … for making me afraid of flying. I don’t know what it was, but ever since this past Christmas, every little feeling of weightlessness or amount of turbulence in a plane makes me pray we don’t fall straight down, and I’m always half-convinced we will.

It’s funny, because before I always hated turbulence but rarely experienced it. When I did, I barely noticed it. Not one of my flights that eventually took me to Egypt in 2015 made me nervous, not even the in-country flight, when we were given juice boxes but not a safety demonstration.

But lately I have dreams about being in a plane that takes off and immediately comes back down, or watching another flight crash, or being in a large aircraft where its future is uncertain. Heck, the other night I came in and on my TV was a special about a plane that went down in the Atlantic in 2009 thanks to an inexperienced pilot — and I mean straight down. Naturally the universe would deliver my greatest fear to me via airwaves.

The Ford Tri-Motor was originally meant to arrive from Asheville on Thursday, Oct. 12, That entire day I was on the cusp of passing out from the possibilities and the what-ifs. If I was nervous about modern jets, what would a nearly 100-year-old plane do to me? But alas, when I arrived and learned the plane was delayed I stayed for the free lunch the people still provided, because once I learned I could postpone my nervousness I could finally eat without worrying about a stomach ache.

So for the next few days I wondered about the flight but didn’t worry.

Then Sunday after church I received a text letting me know there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the plane was finally on the East Coast — and my panic set in again. For two seconds I thought, “I have too much to do, maybe I won’t go. But at least I’ll live.” But that mentality dissipated two seconds later, because it was a free flight. The irony is that despite my fears of turbulence and falling, I love flying so much I will drive to an airport just to watch aircraft take off.

So I hauled it from South Carolina all the way back to Oak Island just as another group was boarding the plane and taking off. I met up with some of the people I had talked with Thursday and was introduced to new ones as 1920s music flowed from a speaker, skydivers fell to earth and tour helicopters flew through. It was during this time of tranquility (and still some jitters) I realized yet again what I have for quite some time: Being in the sky, just out, all over the world, is who I am. Listening to that music and watching planes come and go as I waited for the Ford to come back, I felt bigger than my body and everything around me and just so damn alive.

When the plane landed safely and as we waited for the minimum amount of passengers we would need for my flight (the last flight of the day; I lucked out) I talked with our pilot, Colin Soucy of Annapolis, Md.

Soucy is a retired commercial airline pilot who mainly flew domestic flights, but told me he enjoyed flying the Tri-Motor the most. He said next the plane would go to Columbia, S.C., and later would head to Florida, where he planned to offer rides in “every city” all winter. The Ford never takes a break, he said.

I was amazed at how long the wingspan was: 77 feet, 6 inches, to be exact. That’s longer than the plane itself, which is 50 feet 3 inches. It has a cruising speed of 122 mph, but Soucy said he only went about 90 mph during the flights Sunday.

After a safety demonstration on the ground (because the plane doesn’t have a PA system), we marked the 14th flight of the day. I had to make sure I didn’t fall, which I am prone to do, because the plane is slanted somewhat steeply, meaning you had to climb to your seat.

I got one as best I could that wouldn’t allow the motor to hinder my view for my camera and, as the plane lifted off the ground smoothly, I felt that familiar rush I always do at every takeoff.

The views were insane ­— vast green everywhere to my right, and the vast blue of the ocean to my left. Playing in the ocean, it always looks so green, but from high above it, it was aquamarine. With the sounds and the sights and the aesthetic and my fear waning, I felt bigger than my body. I felt bigger than all I could see out the windows.

When we landed, I was hoping they would have one more flight and I could go on that one as well, but as it was later in the day and the plane can’t fly at night, I watched as it was parked in the hangar.

I’m guessing the next flight I’ll experience is the one taking me home for Christmas. Every time I’m in an airport, I feel morally obligated to make a status about how alive they make me feel and how I’m meant to always be flying, so look out for that this December if we’re Facebook friends.

And as I take to the skies again, even if it’s just to fly home to Kentucky, I’ll always pretend I’m flying far away, either to a place I’ve never been or visiting a country I’ve already frequented.

But Sunday I didn’t pretend I was anywhere but on the East Coast above the Atlantic Ocean. And that was just fine with me.

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.