The Biplane & The Theme From Shaft

A compromising position. (Outer Banks Sentinel 2009)


When last we left my adventures in biplanes, it was last year. I had a reservation to take a flight on a beautiful old plane while on vacation on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  

You might recall that last year’s flight never happened due to an unfortunate incident. My plane, the one I’d dreamed of for years, got into a compromising position with another airplane. There was a photo. The incident dashed my hopes.  

Quite frankly, my Nerve was also dashed.  Upon seeing that photo, I did the math on how soon after that crash happened that I was to have been on that plane. The idea became a lot less appealing.  

Nerve Invites Himself To Lunch (…but I’m talkin’ ’bout Shaft)

A few days before I left for vacation, I was having lunch at a Thai place. Nerve stopped at my table as he was being shown to his. He plopped down in the chair across from me. The hostess asked if we’d be eating together. I said no. Nerve ignored me, ordered Namprigpaow, extra spicy, and kept his seat. 

My buddy Nerve sort of has a history of steering me into situations where I end up questioning my judgement. He seems to specialize in getting me to do the kind of stuff that isn’t funny when it happens, but makes a pretty good story later. When he shows up I am a little wary of what he has in mind. 

Right away, he started pitching the biplane idea again. I wasn’t into the idea. The crash right before I was supposed to go the last time was a buzz kill. Nerve was ready for that – “No, man. That just means it is meant to be. The bad luck went to someone else. You’re cool, make the call. Book it.”  

I stuck to my guns, I wasn’t going to do the flight. Crashing is not a “someday I’ll look back on this and it will be funny” kind of situation.  But Nerve knew he’d gotten into my head. We argued a little more and traded friendly insults in the way old friends will sometimes do. My buddy Nerve can be a jerk, but deep down, I like seeing him.  

We fought over the check, I bought. In return, Nerve insisted on buying an extra round next time we went out for a drink. I agreed, and then he retold me the story of how the last time he bought an extra round I ended up doing The Theme From Shaft in a karaoke bar.  

For those of you who might think The Theme From Shaft is a good choice because it is pretty much a spoken song, you are right. It is perfect for those of us with limited vocal range. It is important to keep in mind though, that there is an extremely long instrumental introduction that leaves you with several awkward minutes of standing there in front of a room full of people. So, with that vision in your mind, you might know why I question Nerve when he says something is a good idea. Can you dig it? Right on.  

And then Wednesday morning came.

On Wednesday morning I was sitting on the back deck of the beach condo. I looked up, Nerve strolled by on the dock. I waved. He spread his arms in that way we all did as kids when we were playing airplane, then looked at me and shrugged as if to ask when I was going. I shook my head no. He pantomimed a chicken. I gave him the finger. Then we both looked up when we heard the rumble of the engine overhead.  

When I looked back down Nerve wasn’t looking up. He was looking at me and laughing. He knew he’d won.  

I showered and drove to Dare County Airport. I pulled up outside the fence at Barrier Island Aviation. The red biplane, the one I should have flown in last year, was there in front of the hangar.  

My plan was to stand there and think about it for a moment before I did anything. That never happened. I walked right in (as if I were the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about) and booked a flight. Ninety minutes later I was sitting in the front seat of the plane.  

Inside the red biplane


The pilot came out and pointed out the different controls at my seat. He asked me not to touch them. I agreed. We did not discuss the various emergency exits. There appeared to be two, one over each wing.  

The plane rumbled to life. There wasn’t anyone there to spin the propeller to start the plane, the pilot just did something at his seat.  

I decided not to take points off for the lack of a propeller spinner guy. Seriously though, that is part of the image, right?  

We started taxiing toward the runway. It occurred to me that maybe the person who is actually flying should be in front, but it was a little late to bring that up. I decided to just leave the seating arrangement as it was.  

The flight

The Wright Brothers Memorial from the plane


The flight was everything I’d hoped it would be.  

We taxied to the end of the runway and turned facing down its long length. I’ll admit to wondering what I’d gotten myself into at moment the plane started rolling. Once the plane started rolling faster  I was too busy laughing to really care.  

I’d never been on a plane without a flight attendant and overhead luggage compartments. We were in the air so quickly it was almost startling.  The little red plane popped into the air after a really short trip on the runway. We couldn’t have been doing more than 80 mph.  

I don’t have the words to adequately describe what it is like to fly in an open plane. I can tell you it is both happily noisy and surprisingly stable. I was instantly comfortable up there. I took pictures like crazy. I looked over the side and down.  

I looked around and picked out landmarks I’d known since my days coming to these beaches while in college. All those old landmarks were made new by this old fashioned time machine. Nerve was right, I was supposed to be in this plane.  

Back On Earth

They say this cat Omawari-aviator-san is a bad mutha...(shut yo mouth)


The landing was smooth. I had a great time – so good that if that plane had a credit card processor in it, I’d have had us back in the air without even going back to the hangar.  

I’m pretty sure I talked continuously for fifteen minutes after hopping out of the plane and leaving the hangar. I can be a social guy when I put my mind to it, but to launch into a monologue like that is something unusual. I’m still grinning as I do my first  draft of this, the day after the flight.  

Thanks Nerve. Stop by anytime.  

A little plug here for Barrier Island Aviation in Manteo, NC. If you’re on vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and considering taking a flight, I can tell you they made mine fun, safe, and something I will absolutely do again.   

P.S. To my friends who travel to the Keys with me in the fall, if you think this means I won’t be bugging you to book a flight with me again this year, you’re wrong.  

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16 Comments on “The Biplane & The Theme From Shaft”

  1. pattypunker says:

    you are one BAMF. way to go! congrats on your first flight.

  2. Mrs. Abyss says:

    You are my new favorite story teller (tho let’s not tell Mr. Abyss). I was totally supporting Nerve the whole time and was chanting “book it, book it, book it!” at my monitor. I’m glad you followed through, sounded like a total blast.

  3. Glad you did it! Loved your discussions with nerve.

    What’s next on his dare list for you?

  4. queensgirl says:

    Glad you had fun. Especially glad you returned safely to the ground!

    • omawarisan says:

      You know, the thing is, the returning part was ridiculously smooth. I had anticipated something a little rougher but I can honestly say I have had much rougher landings flying commercial than I did on this flight.

  5. Roger's Place says:

    Great write, and great flight!

  6. Abe's Blog says:

    Awesome! And I love the theme song from Shaft. I use it as the musical theme for my Myspace page to set the mood. You know, next time you go on this ride, you need to ask the pilot to play this song for you over the intercom system. I know this plane is old, but it must have an 8-track player, right?

  7. tsanda says:

    cooler? bi plane or double decker bus? the picture of yourself is a nice touch. now i feel like we have known each other for years… don’t expect any photos of me though….

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