Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vicki Cruse, 1969-2009. R.I.P.

Vicki Cruse, a champion aerobatic pilot, was killed yesterday during a training flight in preparation for the World Aerobatic Championships being held at the Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire, England. She was 40.

I am in the midst of re-reading Susan Butler's East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart. While Earhart is best known for flying solo across the Atlantic and her ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the globe, she was also an accomplished aerobatic pilot and competed in the sort of airshows Cruse did. Only back then they were generally called "air rodeos." When participating in these shows in the early 1920s while based in Los Angeles, Earhart would largely ascended to high altitudes but also could perform stunts such as barrel rolls, loops and tailspins. Later in her career she participated in long distance aviation races.

Accidents were a common occurrence in the 1920s and Earhart "ditched" more than her share of aircraft. She never sustained any serious injuries. However, some of her fellow colleagues weren't so lucky, both male and female. Given the hazards involved with flying it was thought that commercial airplanes would never be a viable business.

Of course, airplanes became much safer and commercial flight became a viable business venture notwithstanding the current state of the airlines. Yet the inherent risk in flying is always there whether aboard a private, commercial, military or sport aircraft. Even the most experienced of pilots can make a mistake or have their equipment abruptly fail.

According to a witness at the airshow, "She flew straight up in the air and then straight back down again. But she dropped straight into the ground....There was no way anyone was getting out of the wreckage."

Cruse won the U.S. National Aerobatic Title in 2007 and was President of the International Aerobatics Club at the time of her death.

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