A ride with the Red Barons: Rockford has never looked so spectacular

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118115595428988.jpg’, ”, ”);
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StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118115496324367.jpg’, ‘Photos by Sara Harrilchak’, ‘A view from the front seat of the cockpit of one of four Red Baron Squadron biplanes flying over Rockford May 31. Below at right are Gabriel W. Magnuson in flight (top photo) and prior to take-off.‘);

Sara, the photographer, and I kept looking at one another with the biggest grins we could manage. The excitement and opportunity to ride a nearly 65-year-old Stearman biplane was more than either of us had expected.

Even after the pilot, Matt Losacker, had me put on my parachute and strap myself into the front seat of the cockpit, I still couldn’t believe I was riding with the Red Barons!

As I sat with my headset and goggles on, I watched as the levers and pedals moved around me. The engine started, the propeller began to spin. I heard the OK from the control tower over my headset, and the squad began the takeoff by maneuvering side to side down the runway. Before I knew it, our speed picked up along with the tail end, and we began our ascent.

While in the air, time seemed to stand still. The only thing I can remember is the feeling. The wind from the open cockpit was surprisingly mild, as if driving a convertible car down the highway, 1,000 feet up.

The only thing I could think of was how amazing the view was. The wind blowing, the buzz of the engines—it was absolutely astonishing. I was even able to find my tiny little house hidden among the vast display. As we swooped around over downtown Rockford, the passersby below may have seen four little biplanes traveling across the sky, but I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of those lives in motion. I must admit, I’ve never seen Rockford look so spectacular before.

My pilot, Matt, was great for the experience. He was very courteous, and asked questions to make sure I was enjoying my flight. He let me know of any flight maneuvers he would do so I could brace myself, but they were more exhilarating than frightening or stomach-churning.

We headed back toward the airport, and Matt gave the announcement that we’d be making a “hard right turn, then land one by one.” Once landing and disembarking from the craft, I was left with a feeling of vibration, as after mowing the lawn, throughout my entire body, but with an adrenaline rush like no other.

I admit, it has been a few years since I’ve ridden in a plane. But this feeling was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

While I wasn’t able to experience the full extent of tricks, that brief 15 minutes will not soon be forgotten.

For those with the opportunity, take it. This is a very talented and capable group. They do what they can to make your flight as memorable and enjoyable as possible, and you leave with a story to tell for years to come.

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

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