Women Who Fly

Portraits of female pilots

Patty Wagstaff, Aerobatic Pilot

(Carolyn Russo)

With the German monoplane Extra 260. Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, 1993.

“When you first start doing [aerobatics], you feel like your head’s going to explode and your eyeballs are going to pop out. All the blood drains out of your head and goes down to your feet so you have to tense your stomach muscles and your chest muscles, and then if it really gets bad, you tense up in your neck. I’m pulling so many Gs in such a short amount of time, it’s automatic with me….

Competition is a mental game in any sport. I start preparing mentally months before. When I get in bed at night, I go through a routine every night for months, sometimes for three months. I’ll go through the routines in my mind and it sort of lulls me to sleep. And I fly it. Sometimes I’m outside the plane. Sometimes I’m inside. And it’s always from a little different angle, and the wind is always different….

As soon as I started flying, I knew this is where I needed to be. I really needed a challenge and a focus and I wanted to achieve something. I wanted to make my mark somewhere. Aviation just symbolized everything that I loved. It was freedom, total freedom. You can get in an airplane, you can leave, you can go somewhere else, and you can be up there all by yourself. You grab hold of the stick in the plane and everything is sort of right. The world’s at peace.”

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