A story from my not-entirely-misspent aerobatic days.
High in the rain-washed air, above spring greened wheat and grass, the dance begins. The nose of the small crimson and white biplane eases slightly below the horizon, and the rest of the plane rotates around it, stopping wheels high to check seatbelts and oil pressure. The wings swing crisply upright once again, quickly turning to wards a box drawn in the air that only the mind’s eye can see. The silvery nose of the checker-winged Pitts swings left and right, searching for other airplanes. None appear to seeking eyes, and the plane banks towards the unseen box, dipping a wing three times in salute.
The biplane cruises straight ahead for a moment, then abruptly, smoothly, pitches nose high on a forty five degree line. For two heartbeats it rises, then rolls upside-down, still climbing. The nose drops straight down and the little plane speeds towards the plowed brown earth below, then pulls smoothly back into straight and level flight, turning force and speed into altitude. As soon as a breath, the nose rises high and pulls in, curving up and over, rolling easily to set its wheels down at the top of a half loop.
With a muttering pop the engine slows to idle as the Pitts holds steady, nose high, losing airspeed. Just as a shudder and whistle warn that the cool wind will support wings no more, the nose swings right and drops with a swirl into a spin. The world turns through four quarters plus one before rotation stops, and again fields grow large as the Pitts flicks its rudder to the blue above. The engine roars to life and the stick moves back, pulling hard against the descent.
Another pull, and a second of time starts the curving climb of another Immelman turn, ending in a slow roll to upright, pure turquoise sky once again above the wings. The white and scarlet wings bank sharply, cutting the clear morning air with an aerobatic turn into the wind. Half a roll follows, brown earth replacing sky as altitude changes to airspeed at the diving end of a split-S. Across the invisible box the little plane slides, pulling nose high into another forty-five degree line and a roll upside-down. This time, the wings gracefully carve a half circle around the back of a loop. The wind moves faster and faster over the wings, forcing the pilot to pull more and more firmly on the stick in order to keep from losing too much altitude into airspeed. Halfway through the width of the box, and pull. A touch of rudder keeps the nose straight through a big, easy loop that flows swiftly into the tight vertical climb of a hammerhead turn.
Just as the last of its speed runs into height and the plane can climb no more, the silver nose of the plane accepts gravity’s inevitable victory. Rudder and stick smoothly pivot the shining spinner through the horizon to dive straight down. Another touch of rudder, and a firm pull brings the speeding white wings level, for a moment only. Abruptly, the wings snap on their side, vertical, hesitating, balancing on knife edge. Then another snap to inverted flight, then knife edge once more, and finally the sky and earth return crisply to their accustomed places. Bank and pull, and an aerobatic turn slices one hundred eighty degrees off the compass to cross the box again, before the Pitts rolls swiftly around its center and waves out, climbing slowly away from the dance floor.
Creamy wings and wheels soar higher in the cool morning, rising to meet the first fluffy puff clouds of spring. Far below, a thin tan trail of dust reveals a farmer turning the winter’s fallow under, unaware of the joyful dance beginning again for the unseen judges, high in the cobalt sky.
For those unfamiliar with the title reference, the hymn by Sydney Carlton “Lord of the Dance” begins “I danced in the morning when the world was begun/ And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun.” The tune is the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.”
(C) 1998, 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved