Original writings by Adrienne Nater

Geeze Ladies 
 

Five Minutes

“Geez Ladies, how’d you get a branch of pine tree stuck in the tail section?” He wrenched it out. So says the kid directing them to a secure tie down at Fallon Airport, Nevada. It was 1967, the end of the Reno Fun Race that has originated in San Diego just a few hours before.

They knew, but just shrugged with the I don’t know movement taking the rather sizeable branch out of his hands, helping to push the Cessna 170 along to the spot assigned. Old Yellow Cloud had brought them in safely, that was what counted. How did it get there you ask? Here’s the story.

The plane had been stripped of all unnecessary items. Personal items limited to a small overnight case. They left San Diego Airport in the early hours, twenty third in line for the start. They would be timed from lift-off.

“You pilot, I’ll navigate.” So says Chief Jan. “Just listen to me; Watch the instruments. I’ll deal with our position, the map. You get onto the step and fly this baby.”

They had spent the proceeding evening listening to Weather reports, strategic cloud formations, wind advisories, experts of every sort for aviation advice; mixed with all the women who had made their name in aviation: Commercial and private pilots of all ages. Many trained as WASP’s during WWII as did the navigator Jan Wood, class of 1944.

So the strategy, already formulated would be to fly at ground level, full throttle over the terrain; and ground level it was, meaning that the high tension lines along their route would be above them. Jan studied the map, finding the three matching markers on the map to the three matching on the topography. She would say things like “gain 150 feet for one minute, 2 degrees left, 3 degrees right, hold it there, keep your eyes on the instruments, don’t look up just hear me.” And they scooted across their plotted path; now and again waving at off-road bike riders testing themselves against the desert.

Then it was to gradually gain elevation as the mountains between low country and their destination had to be crossed but at as low an altitude as possible, gaining time and distance. The assent was gradual keeping the plane’s steady climb at 200 feet above the trees. Unexpectedly, their altitude gain was not happening at the designated rate, unexpected head winds, not reported in their briefing the evening before; winds tumbling down the mountain, pushing down pushing down. Their steady gain in altitude diminished from their pre determined plan; the ground level, the top of trees too close. Jan saw it; the pilot hadn’t, not looking away from the instruments per her instructions, more like orders to be obeyed.

From her right came the voice “Do a 180 now! Do it now!” The turn took them down the mountain slope, gaining distance between the trees the plane; then another 180 still gaining altitude, they were back on course, the maneuver cost them five minutes. Without it would have caused more then they wanted to think about.

 

That evening, the grand banquet, the announcement of winners in each designated class. They were awarded their trophy, placing 4th, four minutes off the leader; with only seconds separating the next two entrants.  Disappointment, you bet, glad to be alive, yes, yes, yes.

The pine tree branch, their trophy for living to tell the tale of another grand adventure together.