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Courier editor takes to the skies

Jonna Miller
| Saturday, July 28, 2001

LATROBE - The year was 1990. The place was the then-Latrobe Airport. The event was a flight with the late husband-wife aerobatic team, the French Connection. The subject was me, the then-Jonna Spitznogle.

It was my first media ride arranged by the airshow committee to promote its gala affair. And it was great.

'Ask me again and I'm there,' I thought.

Fast forward 11 years to Friday.

The year is 2001. The place is the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. The event is a flight on a B-25 Mitchell. The subject is me, Jonna Miller.

The usually annual Westmoreland County Airshow is a huge event. The show, slated for today and Sunday at the county airport in Latrobe, always starts off with a preview on Friday. That is when lucky members of the press are invited to come along for a ride with the performers. I was one of the lucky ones this year.

When I flew with the French Connection, it was an open cockpit and I was right there beside the pilot. We performed a number of aerobatic moves. It was awesome - doing barrel rolls and big loop-da-loops.

This trip was a bit different - still awesome - just a bit more reserved.

The plane I was assigned to wasn't going to be flying Friday, so I volunteered for the next available aircraft.

It turned out to be a B-25 Mitchell. Let me say first off, I am no expert on World War II or aircraft. The information about this plane was provided by the friendly folks at the airshow press tent.

And I quote, 'The B-25 Mitchell, a twin-engine bomber that became standard equipment for the Allied Air Forces in World War II, was perhaps the most versatile aircraft of the year. It became the most heavily armed airplane in the world, was used for high- and low-level bombing, strafing, photoreconnaissance, submarine patrol and even as a fighter, and was distinguished as the aircraft that completed the historic raid over Tokyo in 1942.'

After a bit of wrangling for the co-pilot's seat up front, we four press types took our position in the B-25. We had to crawl up into the belly of the plane on a three-step ladder. I ended up on the side gunner's seat with a great view out the window.

After getting strapped in with the most primitive looking seatbelt ever and slipping on the much-need ear protection, we were off.

We taxied onto the runway. Our pilot, Russ Striner, had us in the air in an instant. Before I knew, the runway was growing smaller and smaller out the window and were flying high.

My parents made a trip out to the airport for my adventure and I could see them waving like nuts as we were taking off.

It took me a few minutes to get my bearings in the air, but I soon recognized the Toll 66 toll booth and Route 30 intersection. From there we sailed over Greensburg and I snapped a few pictures of the courthouse.

It was an incredibly smooth ride, considering the age of the aircraft. It was the equivalent of a commercial jet trip. Having just returned from a trip to Central America last month, I can honestly say the two were comparable.

Comparable except for one sharp bank turn that stirred up the couple cans of Diet Coke in my belly for a minute or so.

I got so caught up in the ride and taking pictures, that I didn't notice right away that we had begun our descent until the other two photogs were strapped in their seats. I got mine buckled as the landing gear skipped off the runway.

The door in the floor opened up and I descended the ladder and was back on solid ground too soon.

The 2001 airshow promises to be another great endeavor. I'll be there on Sunday, come rain or shine. It will be well worth it.

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