About Us

Here at Backbeat Tours we tell people from all over the world about our unique city everyday. From Graceland to the Grizzlies, Beale St. to the Burbs we are passionate about Memphis. This blog is where we share quirky, behind-the-scenes tales of Memphis, past and present.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Up, Up, and Away

Our New Year's resolution this year was to look for unusual and thrilling things to do in Memphis, things we've never done before and might never do again - a bucket list of sorts that we call Project Adrenaline. You may have read our post about the Polar Bear Plunge, the first of our Project Adrenaline activities. This month, Backbeat manager Meagan May offered us the chance to ride in an AirCam, a homemade airplane (yes, I said "homemade") that her father-in-law Tim built and pilots himself. (Tim is a biomedical engineer. I don't think that has much to do with building planes, but at least the word "engineer" is in the title.)

We thought it a wonderful way to honor our recent college graduates here in Memphis, who are now flying themselves, experiencing the "thrill" of having the whole world laid out before them.

Meagan and Tim met myself and Backbeat music guide Nancy Apple at Colonial Air Park outside Collierville to enjoy 20-minute flights in the lightweight, open cockpit AirCam. As I strap myself into the tiny plane, I see a crude instrument panel and joystick in front of me, and some pedals on the floor.  Pilot Tim tells me not to touch anything or we'll crash. "Well, except for that red handle behind you," he says. "If we start going down, just pull on that. It's a parachute." (No, not for me, for the whole plane.)

The AirCam isn't for everyone. The kit itself costs $50,000 and takes an average of 1,100 hours to build, and you need a pilot's license to fly it.  It was first designed for the National Geographic Society for aerial photography in remote areas of Africa. Powered by two engines mounted on the wings, the AirCam flies low and slow, and provides a wide, unobstructed view of the ground below, making it perfect for wildlife photography. Or, as it turns out, for buzzing over waterskiers on a beautiful Mississippi afternoon.

"Check it out," says Tim, as he banks the plane over a small lake south of Collierville. The ground and water yaw up at us and we see a family in a boat below - mom, dad, and four kids - waving excitedly at us. We're flying low, just a few hundred feet from the ground, and we can clearly see their smiling faces. I wave back at them as we soar over the lake. This is what flying in its earliest days must have been like, strumming along on the wind like a dragonfly, over houses and fields with grazing horses, with that perfect freedom that you can only get high above the earth.

We're wearing helmets with a headset inside, and up front Tim is chatting away on the intercom. "You like rollercasters?" he asks. Before I answer, whoa! we're plummeting down in a sudden maneuver that leaves my stomach up near my throat. We pull up and level out, both of us laughing, exhilarated.

Before long, our time is up and we circle around back to the landing strip. I reluctantly unfold myself out of the cockpit - it's a tight squeeze for anyone over four feet tall - and Nancy wriggles in for the next flight. As I watch Tim take off again and the orange and white plane disappears from view, I think to myself the trick is finding a way to never come down.

By Bill Patton, President of Backbeat Tours and adrenaline junkie.

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