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August 26th, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened…at the Vinton Airport

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Written by: The Iowa Republican

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State Representative Dawn Pettengill has created a new blog called, it dawn’d on me. Below is her inaugural post.

Dawn Pettengill here, always at the ready to become the roving, job shadowing, lawmaker.

One Saturday morning, I received a very innocent invitation, via Facebook, to tour the Vinton Airport the next day with one of the airport commissioners, Tom Boeckmann. When I gave the affirmative, quickly Tom wrote back asking if I would like to copilot a skydiving plane. Hmmm…that gave me pause. Do I know anything about planes, anything at all? Not a thing and MUCH tamer activities, like fishing, are on my bucket list, but okay…sure, I’ll do it!

The next day, with no internal radar or premonitions of the experience to come, I took off for the airport. When I arrived, there were cars all over the place from everywhere BUT, Benton County. I thought WOW, what’s going on? Waiting to show me around, are three of the airport commissioners, Tom Boeckmann, Rick Hadley & wife Betsy, and Darrell Kenney. They gave a brief description of the economic benefits to Vinton and we glanced through their new brochure (attached). When I asked, they said the number of cars is a normal weekend for the airport. Impressive.

We move to the beginning of the adventure when Tom asks if I’ve ever been in a small plane. It seems like everywhere I go is out of the norm and take small jets, but planes? I say no. They are all looking at me with a little sparkle in their faces and then tell me I have to wear a parachute, that they will pack. Alarm bells start to go off…a politician in an airplane with a parachute that’s packed locally? But commitment is a big thing with me and I’ve commited, so let’s go.

Although I’m headed toward Paradise Skydives, Tom tells me there are multiple businesses housed at the airport that aren’t open today, but bring business to the Vinton area. We have Iowa Wing and Rotor, Iowa Flight Training, Mayland Aerial Photography, Star Aerobatics, Streeter Aerial Spraying and of course, Paradise Skydives.

As Tom is explaining I will have to fill out some papers to go up with the plane, we walk over to the Paradise Skydives building. There is Jay Speckeen, President of Paradise Skydives, loading a parachute and probably 30 people in different stages of training before their dives. Having never seen a parachute up close, I had no clue how they were packed. Don’t you buy them packed? Apparently not and I have to wear one! Jay is talking to me about his business, all the while nonchalantly loading a parachute…shoot, shouldn’t he be paying attention!? Jay says, “Go on in the office and they will set you up with some paperwork.”

In the office, there is more and different activity. A little Yorkie is running around, definitely to bring down the anxiety factor. Tom explains to the woman in charge of the office that I am going up as a copilot for one of the jumps. She looks me over, hands me a clipboard and tells me to fill out this packet of papers. That I have to complete all the papers a skydiver would have to complete. Oh, okay, thanks.

On review of the packet, maybe it’s the politics that’s made me skeptical, but there are a LOT of Waivers of Liability here. Not just for me, but my family too. My heart moves into fat burning stage and no cute little Yorky is going to fix that. Let’s see, health information…no heart problems, no I can’t do 50 sit-ups (kidding, that wasn’t there). Serious now, no mental health problems, no alcohol or drug problems, no cancer or diabetes…next page…WHAT? They want my weight! Conveniently I skip THAT one, complete the package and turn it in to what is:

THE WOMAN IN CHARGE. She looks the papers over and says you skipped this. You guessed it, she caught me, the weight. I asked, “What do you want that for?” With an incredulous look, she explains they need to know how much weight is in the plane. Good insight, but not enough to make me put my weight down. I take the clipboard, and write….199+ smiley face…and hand it back. She looks disgusted now. I’m sure if it was a bigger airport and I wasn’t a lawmaker, security would be taking me out, but I smile sweetly and say “That’s all you’re getting. You know, it could show up on YouTube or something.” Oh, she understands now, loosens up and gives me a pass. One hurdle down.

Next thing you know, Tom turns me over to Jay, who walks me out to the runway. Now parachute-less (Is that because I wouldn’t fill out my weight?), Jay and I talk a little friendly politics while waiting for the plane to come back. Crazy enough, that calms me down for a minute. Something I know, right? But when the plane starts heading our way, my heart starts moving into cardio. My Mom’s voice saying, “You can do it. Pull your socks up and stand up straight.” started going through my head. Randy Brubaker, star pilot (he really is), jumps out and says, ” You can go in the pilot door up front and over the instruments OR through the side door where the skydivers jump out. ” 50/50, so I say side. Little did I know I would have to squeeze the 199+ smiley face through an 18″ door and do an acrobatic half gainer to get to my seat. Once I made it, I looked wistfully at the easy entrance through the door and over the instrument panel. Sigh, those 50/50s, get me every time.

What an adventure and we haven’t even left yet! Randy gets in the pilot seat and we both buckle up and put headphones on. He shows me how to adjust the microphone so he can hear me and tells me about swallowing to clear the pressure on my ears when I feel it. People are getting in the back…lots of nervous giggles back there. Looking through the 18″ sliver, I’m trying to turn around to see if they are as nerved up as I am…but oh yeah, they have parachutes.

Randy glances over to see if I’m okay…super professional. There’s a lot of false bravado at the Capitol. Any show of weakness brings out the bullies, so I’m practiced at looking cool under pressure. I smile weakly. Here we go!

Once we are up in the air, my inquisitiveness takes over. At 5′3″, I couldn’t see over the instruments in the front and no booster seat, so looking out the side, Randy takes me over my town, Mt. Auburn. Awww, so cute! Wow, look at Benton County! It’s beautiful up here! Oh, look at the water towers…! Cardio heartrate moves down to fat burning, until Randy says for the people in the back to get ready to jump. Oh yeah, there’s PEOPLE back there! Fat burning heartrate instantly to CARDIO! The 18″ sliver is not going to allow me to see much, but there…they look like they are falling out and I quickly look out my window, but we can’t see them anymore. Whoa Nellie. That had to be something else! We tool around a little bit more and head back to the airport in time to see one of the chutes heading down. I did not see those people again, but was assured they made it.

On landing, the commissioners are smiling and waving, totally oblivious to the trauma their representative has just been through. What a relief! I thank Randy profusely for bringing me back to earth. “Nah, I don’t need your arm, thanks anyway.”, I jump the 3′ down. WhooHoo…brave girl.

Oh, we have another commissioner waiting for me now, Dale Petersen. And a pickup truck with shovels, brooms, hot asphalt mix and the tailgate down. They all say, “C’mon Dawn, jump on the tailgate.” A tailgate was not on my bucket list either, but okay, sure, after a sky diving plane almost anything is possible. I jump on with a couple others and we take off down the runway until we get to some potholes. Wow! We’re going to fill some potholes…cool! Dale Petersen puts his DOT experience and strong back into getting up all the loose stuff, while I’m sweeping it out and the other guys are picking up the big stuff, putting the asphalt mix in and tamping it down. Who knew the commissioners had to do this? As we were working, they are telling me about projects they are working on and planning. Getting jet fuel pumps so they can get bigger air traffic, putting a new hangar in and replacing the sign out front to a big stone one. I’m feeling the camaraderie and really appreciating how hard these guys work. Nice.

All done with the patching, Dale asks if one of us will ride inside as he’s a little worried about the tailgate. 199+ smiley face, I volunteer. Although my luck is holding, I don’t want to be the one responsible for the tailgate going. Phew, we’re heading back to the office and I’m still in one piece. Feeling my lawmaker mojo coming back, I start asking questions about their funding, their challenges and rewards. We walk over to see where the new hangar was going and then to see Jay of Paradise Skydives to thank him for the experience….as my heart rate moves back to normal, I say my goodbyes.

Many thanks to the Airport Commissioners and Paradise Skydives for what you do for the City of Vinton and a BIG thanks for the very eventful 3 1/2 hours for me. A 3 1/2 hours that wasn’t on my bucket list, but definitely should have been.

What a day! I was exhausted! Stay tuned for the N E X T post from “it Dawn’d on Me!”…this is going to be fun.


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The Iowa Republican





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