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Flight Risk

A reporter tackles her fear of flying in a Midsouth Airshow plane.



"You ready to go upside down?" asks David Peeler, who's currently piloting me over Millington's lush green farmland in a World War II fighter plane.

"Um ... sure," I mouth apprehensively over the roar of the plane's engine. It's the second time I've ever flown, and I've just agreed to take part in aerial acrobatics. I immediately regret the decision.

I gaze nervously out of the glass bubble surrounding my head, imagining the crash that is surely about to end my short life. Suddenly, treetops are looming over my head as Peeler rolls the plane over to the left. My stomach sinks. I pray I won't have to use the barf bag tucked into my seatbelt.

But within seconds, the 1949 Hawker Sea Fury is right-side up again. Pleased to have lived through the quick ordeal, I give the pilot a thumbs up. But I don't want to do it again.

Peeler's plane, one of the fastest warplanes of its day, will be on display at the Midsouth Airshow at the Millington Regional Jetport on September 22nd and 23rd. Though he won't be flying his plane during the acrobatic air show, plenty of others will be demonstrating the same rollover tricks, as well as many other feats I would never dare participate in.

The fifth biannual show will feature the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, a six-plane team, and the nine-plane Canadian Forces Snowbirds, as well as several civilians who perform aerial acrobatics in their personal aircraft.

"This is the second show in a row for us having both the Navy Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds performing together," says Dan Ventre, president of the Midsouth Airshow Foundation. "The Snowbirds only perform about four to six shows per year in North America."

Both teams will demonstrate formations, rolls, loops, and other high-performance capabilities of military aircraft.

"All the maneuvers the pilots will perform are the same maneuvers all fighter pilots perform each and every day," Ventre says. "They probably don't fly as close together or with that large a number of aircraft, but every fighter pilot has to know how to fly acrobatically in order to fly in combat."

The Midsouth Airshow began in 1999 as a fund-raiser for the Madonna Learning Center, a local school for developmentally disabled children. These days, the show benefits multiple charities. In addition to the Madonna Learning Center, proceeds will be distributed to the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Pathfinders, Inc.

Ventre says they're hoping to raise $400,000 this year, double what they raised last year.

The good cause is not without its risks, however. Three pilots have died in air-show accidents this year. Ventre says all precautions have been taken to ensure pilots follow Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines.

"Knock on wood. We've never had an aircraft accident at the Midsouth Airshow," Ventre says. "We're very careful."

Though I completely trust Peeler during our quick plane ride, I can't help but think of those air-show incidents. As we approach the runway for landing, I breathe a sigh of relief. I've become quite nauseous and claustrophobic in my narrow seat.

But despite my discomfort, I smile as the wheels bump onto land. I think I've conquered my fear of flying.

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