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Jones Beach air show stunt pilot gives us a sneak peek

Legendary aerobatic air show performer Sean D. Tucker,

Legendary aerobatic air show performer Sean D. Tucker, right, and reporter Andrew Smith in a Piper chase plane at Republic airport. (May 24, 2010) Credit: Pablo Corradi

THERE was barely a hint of queasiness while soaring, rolling, looping, climbing and diving a mile or two off Robert Moses State Park with stunt pilot Sean Tucker.

That came after we'd come to a full stop at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale and my stomach kept moving long after the rest of me had stopped. Until then, the 20 minutes with Tucker in his Extra 300-L monoplane had been wonderfully free - even hanging upside down in my harness with only a plastic canopy between me and the Atlantic Ocean a half-mile below.

Tucker, one of the most extreme stunt pilots working, will dance his custom-made Oracle Bi-Plane through the air during the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show this weekend at Jones Beach. This week, however, he did some media flights in the two-seat monoplane.

I was convinced the flight would be a breeze. I love roller coasters, and the two times I've been on passenger flights that had to abort landings in stormy weather, I was secretly thrilled.

Tucker, 58, of Salinas, Calif., promised it would be a blast. "If you like roller coasters and you've got a strong stomach, you'll have a great time," he said with comforting bravado.

First step: Apply parachute and absorb a brief lesson in how to bail out of a crashing plane. And yes, Tucker had to do that four years ago when a part on his previous biplane failed. "Fortunately, the plane was going up when it broke," Tucker said. "It was really a big disappointment."

But other than that heap of wreckage left in a Louisiana field, his 30 years of flying have been mostly trouble-free.

After takeoff, we banked right over the Pinelawn cemeteries and headed for the ocean, where stunt flights can take place without endangering folks on the ground. I was in front; Tucker behind.

Before each trick, Tucker's voice in my headphones told me what we'd do. First, a barrel roll to the left, with Fire Island rolling from beneath our feet, passing over our heads and back again. Then another.

Then, a loop - Tucker pointed the plane toward the ocean to gather speed, pulled up toward the sky and over we went, our bodies jammed down into our seats at 3.5 times the force of gravity.

A hammerhead - straight up until the nose eased over and we raced to the ocean.

Then Tucker asked me - a complete novice - if I'd like to fly. Well, sure, why not?

First a few turns and then he talked me through a couple of barrel rolls. "Nose down a bit to get some speed," he said. "Now move the stick left, like a turn, but keep it going."

And just like that, the plane rolled and I brought it level. "Perfect!" Tucker yelled into my headphones, laughing along with me. "Do another!"

But then it was time to come back to Earth, where the lack of motion oddly made me ill. But a short while after I stopped moving, so did my stomach.

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