Journalism student gets bird’s eye preview of Quonset air show

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KINGSTON, R.I. – June 22, 2010 – What did you do at work today?

Well, I spent the morning at Quonset Point, meeting power aerobatics aviator Sean D. Tucker watching him fly as I trailed behind him at 300 miles per hour in a chase plane above Narragansett Bay.

It is not every day that you get strapped into an airplane that is slightly larger than a car. As a summer intern at NBC10 in Cranston, I had this opportunity thanks to the help of the University of Rhode Island Journalism Department. My days are spent learning something new everyday, and I never know what assignment will be waiting when I arrive to work each morning.

When Artie Tefft, assignment editor at Channel 10, said today was the media preview for the 20th Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show at Quonset Point in North Kingstown, he said I was welcome to tag along. The air show is June 26 and 27, with the gates opening at 9 a.m. and performances running into the early afternoon each day.

Secretly hoping that they would need an extra for the once-in-a-lifetime preview flight, I prepared myself to just watch and to take pictures of NBC10 reporter Audrey Washington as she flipped and twirled in the sky in one of Tucker’s Team Oracle planes. As we watched Tucker’s practice flight from the ground, Audrey admitted she was not comfortable flying in the plane. To me it looked like the Challenger II biplane was a remote control toy plane just gracefully flipping and spinning above us.

Tucker’s plane was specially designed just for him and is one of the highest performing aerobatic aircrafts in the world. In a 1,200-pound plane powered by a 400-horsepower engine, Tucker flew solo for this trip, although a chase plane flew beside him. An NBC10 photographer strapped into his harness and climbed in the door-less chase plane, and a fellow intern and I were told there was room for a few more. YES! Of course I wanted to come along! We quickly signed the waivers and strapped in, not knowing what to expect.

What a ride! I sat in the back with the cameraman and my fellow intern rode as co-pilot up front. The wind whipped in the door-less opening beside me, and we watched Tucker take off into the air just ahead of us. With headphones and mics to communicate with Tucker and the flyers in my plane, we shared our excitement as we rose higher and higher, moving faster and faster. I pointed out the Jamestown and Newport bridges that were identifiable as we cruised above the Narragansett Bay. What a sight! I leaned forward a bit so I could look straight down, and I felt the straps of my harness pull as we quickly turned to chase Tucker’s plane.

“Now watch this! Are you ready?” Tucker asked NBC10’s photographer in the headphones, “Make sure you get this!” Tucker throttled up and flew less than 20 feet directly left of us. Then he gave a little smirk, saluted, and disappeared as he spiraled down, heading straight toward the water. To watch the speed and agility of such a heavy plane was breathtaking. I snapped some pictures and rode in awe of the talent and dedication that it takes to learn such a skill.

Before getting on the plane, I worried about being the passenger suffering motion-sickness in the back, but proudly (I’m the kid that has to ride up front in cars so I don’t get carsick) the plane rode so smoothly that I never even reached for my barf bag! I have never flown in such a small plane before; my flying experience consists of vacation trips on Southwest. I updated Facebook from my phone, took pictures (which can be seen on the URI Facebook page) and texted my mom… “I flew in a chase plane!” It was unreal.

I chatted with Tucker’s wife after the flight and she said that her husband travels all over the country, and she follows when she can. Their children are all grown up, and now she watches her husband chase his dreams.

Internships are like that – chasing your dreams. I felt like I was in part of a dream today, watching Tucker perform his tricks and cruising weightlessly through the clouds. Part of interning is about getting your foot in the door and meeting the right people; but part of it is also enjoying what you do and figuring out if this is the right path for you.

Senior journalism student Erika Sloan provided this first-person account of her experience as an intern with WJAR NBC10.