Bird’s-eye view of the county worth a moment of terror

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Or: How I survived a flying lesson with Jim Pirtle

By Phyllis McLaughlin

I would have to say that it takes a lot to really scare me.


I get creeped out by scary movies and scary novels, but it’s a type of “scary” that I love. I rarely am so scared by them that I lose sleep or have nightmares.

There is, however, just one exception: It is because of Barnabas Collins that I can’t go to sleep without the blankets pulled around my neck.

For those of you who don’t get the cultural reference, think of him as your pre-Edward Cullen vampire on the mid-1960s afternoon TV soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” Barnabas was not a sexy hunk, though. He was truly scary – to me, at least.

Keep in mind, of course, that I was about 4 years old when my sisters started watching “Dark Shadows” after school each day. I would hide in the other room whenever danger was imminent to one of the characters. And somehow, my 4-year-old brain told me that if I kept the blankets around my neck when I went to bed, no vampire could come in and bite me. It is a habit I cannot break to this day.

Even now, writing this, my neck feels very exposed.

So, when Bedford resident Jim Pirtle said he would take me up in his two-seater plane, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’ve flown in commercial planes numerous times and have absolutely no fear of airplanes. I’d always wanted to fly in a small plane, and I recall thinking to myself how cool it would be if Jim decided to give me a flying lesson.

I was wrong.

Now, I was not scared of being in the plane or even being 1,000 feet or higher in the air. Takeoff didn’t bother me – it felt, actually, like going up the first hill of a roller coaster, but without the sensation of being in a car on a track.

But, when Jim started to give his presentation of what to do if something should, God forbid, happen to him during the flight, everything changed. I watched and listened as he explained which controls did what, showed how to work the throttle and everything else I would need to know to guide the plane safely back to Earth. I tried to take mental notes of everything he said.

Honestly, I don’t remember a bit of it. In fact, everything evaporated from my brain when he let go of his steering wheel and told me to take over.

Instead of the euphoria of having an adventure, what I felt at that exact moment was sheer terror. My life flashed before my eyes, and I could see my Dear Husband telling everyone he’d TOLD me not to go up in that plane.

Holding that steering wheel, I was terrified that if I pulled too hard in one direction I surely would bring us crashing to our deaths.

I told Jim this, and, of course, he just chortled. Then he showed me how hard it would really be to make that kind of error by pushing in on the steering wheel and quickly pulling back. The effect of that, of course, was a sudden drop in altitude followed by a sudden lift.

So much for the Dramamine I’d taken earlier.

I smiled sweetly and asked him never to do that again. He laughed again. I don’t think he realized I was serious.

Aside from the terror and the brief bout of motion-sickness, though, I highly recommend the experience. Jim is a great pilot, and I was amazed to see how much of Trimble County is covered by forest. I enjoyed seeing Milton, Bedford, Carrollton and Madison from a bird’s point of view and I took dozens of aerial shots of local landmarks – LG&E at Wise’s Landing, Valley View Landfill, the schools and the streets of all of the towns.

I’m ready to go back up any time he invites me again.

But, I don’t think becoming a pilot is anywhere in my future.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of the Trimble Banner and lives in Milton, Ky.