Patti Bennett and "her" Waco (actually, Mike and Kendle Hanson's of Biplane Rides in Long Beach, California).
Patti Bennett, the second monthly winner of the Centennial of Flight sweepstakes to take her flight, says she had a fantastic time and got far more out of the experience than she expected. But let her tell you in her own words....
"Wow! Where do I start? Maybe at the beginning. When I first received your e-mail that I had won this trip, I thought it was, well, like a timeshare offer of some kind. Or you know, "You've won 10 million dollars" (see the fine print). But when I showed the e-mail to my instructor, he said, "You know, AOPA is a reputable organization, I think you really won this!" So I contacted you.
"Throughout this process, I wondered why did I win? I mean, it's my husband who's the crazy person about flying—having wanted to learn to fly since he was a young boy! Me, I just learned to fly because I saw a lady in her 60s at an Oshkosh seminar who got up and talked about the fact she had just gotten her license. It was more of, "Well if she can do it, I can do it!" And I've had to learn everything without having known anything beforehand. I knew airplanes had tails and wings. I didn't know what parts belonged on the tail and which ones belonged on the wing and that these parts move! The first time I ever taxied an airplane, the tower must have fallen out of their chairs laughing—I just didn't understand the concept. My next lesson in something was usually given with a comment from my instructor, "100% improvement." So not only have I been a student who has had to learn everything, but I have no natural talent. I didn't think I'd ever learn to land. My poor instructor wracked his brain trying to figure out how to explain different concepts to me. The other two big challenges is that, #1, I've lived with terrible motion sickness all my life. While I sat in the back of the 172 and my husband practiced stalls and steep turns with our instructor, I would be in the back with my motion sickness band turned on high, eyes closed, and a barf bag up to my chin asking if we could fly straight and level for awhile. The #2 challenge is my "gravitational impairment." At 4'9", cushions are mandatory—rudder blocks optional. I thought flying in the Waco would be similar to the 20-minute ride I took at Pioneer's Field in Oshkosh in the Travelair. Maybe not so many cornfields, but a nice gentle ride. So you can imagine that I thought God had mixed my name and my husband's name up for me to win this trip! When I found out I was going to practice loops, barrel rolls, and spin recovery maneuvers, I was extremely nervous. I gave Mike Hanson the impression that I was a "quiet" person (I'm not quiet at all—ask anyone). Scared quiet maybe. Isn't it interesting that you've had the two extremes win the contest? Someone like Shannon Elliott with all his previous experience and me, the scared, motion-sick student pilot? You would think I would be the last person to win the trip.
"But what a phenomenal experience this was that you allowed me to participate in. I will never be the same scaredy student pilot I once was. I came home and informed my instructor I would never complain about 45-degree "steep" turns again. This weekend will be a cherished memory for both my husband and I. He would never ever have convinced me to try an aerobatic flight. Never! But I sure didn't want to disappoint Mike and Kendle Hanson. So I was quiet.
"Speaking of Mike and Kendle Hanson, they were the best hosts! They were gracious and accommodating and soooo nice. They treated us like friends, not like a customer. Kendle came and picked us up, dropped us off at a favorite restaurant of theirs, ferried us around for lunch.... You couldn't have picked a better business to be associated with. Mike was very patient with me and made sure he saw thumbs up for the maneuvers. He gave us a wonderful aerial tour of the downtown area; we saw Catalina Island, the Queen Mary...(I've never been to California before—what a way to view it!).
"And even if I was the biggest chicken student pilot to ever have won this trip, it's changed me forever! I now have done loops, barrel rolls, hammer heads, and spin recovery maneuvers. I never ever would have had the chance to do any of that had I not won this prize. I never would have chosen to try it, and my husband is ecstatic that I'm so thrilled and excited about the experience! We did all the things that are written in your September issue of the Waco flight—and probably more.
"The leather jacket is beautiful—it fits perfectly—and I'll be able to wear a sweatshirt under it for Michigan weather. My husband adjusted the cap, so I look the part perfectly (as long as I stand on a concealed stool). The Marriott's accommodations were wonderful—our room overlooked the golf course (my husband would have preferred to overlook the runway, being the flying nut he is—but he agreed we had a great view — at least we could watch everyone come in on final on 25L). My expectations were exceeded beyond my wildest dreams. Thank you so much!"