Over Unesco World Heritage Site
Some words, some people and places animate the way we relate to past and future experiences, and perhaps the way we will dream again.
It’s a beautiful day at the airfield near Venice, a happy day for Donatella Ricci. Standing on the green airfield kissed by the sun, by the local authorities Donatella receives official recognitions for being the new holder of the Altitude World Record in gyroplane, appreciation for being the founder of ‘FlyDonna’ international convention for women in aviation, and for encouraging responsible flight practice among men and women of all ages and nationalities.
On November 7, 2015 Donatella takes off from the Caposile airfield in her unpressurized Magni M16 Tandem gyroplane: it’s a standard aircraft, merely the engine and gasoline distributions parts have been slightly adapted to withstand the freezing altitude temperatures of -40C. Despite unfavorable weather conditions Donatella believes she can do it, she reaches 26,700 ft: it’s the new Women’s Altitude World Record on gyroplane, since 1931 held by Amelia Earthart.
One day later, on November 8, Donatella takes off from the same airfield, she believes she can fly higher: 27.556ft/8.399m it’s Absolute Altitude World Record, eleven years since the record previously held by American Andrew Keech.
At time of writing the Magni M16 Tandem gyoplane Donatella flies and uses as a flight instructor is the very one which gave her the record. Donatella is a lively, welcoming and kind person, a lady. When she shows the way to the aircraft enthusiasm arises, getting on board is exciting: helmet, interphones, and seat belts on, and Donatella explains procedures during take off.
We are flying over the Lagoon North of Venice, Unesco World Heritage site: the lagoon covers 50,000 km² where nature and history have been closely linked since the Vth century. Donatella points at one spot: “Look“, she says, “doesn’t it look like we’re flying over Tuscany with its yellow fields and cypress trees?” Indeed it does: the perception of time has shifted and for what I know we might as well have been flying anywhere in Italy by now. Then the sunglint over the water mirrors images of the famous islands: colorful Burano, enchanting Murano, S. Francesco del Deserto with its legends, and small uninhabited islands and islets in the Lagoon protected wet-land area.
The wind picks up, in the distance the waters in the sea are buffering, the air is chilly, yet it’s around +30C and only few hundred feet above the ground. I think how Donatella must have felt that cold winter day of November, in her open aircraft at -40C at commercial planes altitude, solo flying to heights where no other gyroplane aviator had flown before. Courage is the key that opens up horizons, and she surely has it.
The back seat I find myself in, is equipped with two floor pedals and a cloche; on Donatella’s side the cockpit with radio, compass, meters and flight instruments. She invites me to hold the cloche and feel its movements while she points the gyroplane towards the brown and green of terra firma, then the sunny lagoon.
It feels like I’m part of the wind, the sky, and waters. It’s a wonderful sensation, and Donatella doubles it with another gift: –“I’m going to let you pilot, you’re in control of the aircraft, take us where you want to go” – she says. While I wonder if I misunderstood, she turns around and smiles: oh my, she means it! With the mindset of a road driver I think: -‘Look ahead Donatella, look where we’re going, someone may be coming our way.’ Donatella goes a step further and holds her hands up in the air: cloche in my hand following what she taught me, gently turning to the right, re-positioning and straight ahead, than left, re-positioning and ahead. I think to myself that this woman is so cool, that it’s such a privilege to soar with her in the air and flying is…
When I remind myself that Donatella let me pilot her aircraft, and with her share the rising sensation of being about to meet up close the lagoon and its wonders, Donatella explains what is happening in flight: how the top and back rotors keep the gyroplane steady even in windy conditions like we find ourselves in, also to drop the idea of venturing in a loop-the-loop because the way rotors are built to work prevent the maneuver on gyroplanes, and further more that experienced pilots can descend and land the aircraft with engines off if needed.
Control back to Donatella while we are approaching the coastline of Jesolo, fly over its beaches and lighthouse upon returning to the base, the club’s airfield. Those few minutes of piloting she graciously offers, feel like they last a magical lifetime. Grateful and honored, what an unforgettable experience and most of all what an extraordinary pilot: all of the stories of aviators, aviatrixes and pioneers of the skies, like the most beautiful of the surprises appear and take shape before my eyes, with great follow up sometime.