So I had a bit of a surreal experience during my travels across the Eastern Shore last week. Thundering down some two-lane country road on the Delaware side of the Delmarva, I caught a quick look at a biplane in the distance. I only noted it because it was pulling vertical, as if maneuvering for the first half of a loop. It was cool seeing it, even from a distance. Nothing kindles the idea of the magic of flight like a biplane. After that, I didn’t think much of it, assuming that it was a wanna-be air show pilot dusting some crops (Is that something people still do?).
Fast forward a few minutes and a few miles and what appeared to be the same plane came screaming out from behind a no-longer-very distant overpass. He made a sweeping left turn, and lined up dead in the middle of the little road. From my perspective of trying to keep one eye on the plane and one on the road, it looked like nothing quite so much as him lining up for a strafing run. It was exactly like the kind of thing you’d see in the movies, if you happen to be a fan of films like North by Northwest.
Irrational as it was, I found myself holding my breath waiting for the telltale flames to jump from behind the propeller and seriously pondering the likelihood of survival if I jerked the wheel hard right to evade the rounds I expected to see plastering the asphalt in front of me. Like I said, it was a totally irrational moment and over before I really had time to give it more than a passing thought.
Still, I flicked my headlights in acknowledgement of the “kill.” I hope that’s how the pilot took it, anyway. In my mind he did. The deep thrumming radial engine passed maybe 100 feet over my head and I lost him in the treetops when he banked right and out over one of the approximately 18 billion cornfields along that stretch of road. There’s nothing like finding yourself under the imagined guns of a century old warplane to get the blood pumping… or maybe it’s just me.