Over A 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.
– “I’ll take you for a ride”, says Donatella Ricci
– “Really? Wow!”
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, Donatella receives official recognitions by the local authorities for being the new holder of the Altitude World Record in gyroplane 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 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, and reaches 26,700 ft: it’s the new Women’s Altitude World Record in Gyroplane, since 1931 held by Amelia Earthart.
One day later, on November 8, 2015 Donatella takes off from the same airfield, she believes she can fly higher, and this time she breaks the Absolute Altitude World Record on Autogyro reaching the altitude of 27.556ft/8.399m. It’s been 11 years since the previous record, held by the American Andrew Keech in 2004.
Donatella is a lively, welcoming and kind person, a lady.
The Magni M16 Tandem gyoplane Donatella flies and uses as a flight instructor is the very one which gave her the record.
When she shows the way to the aircraft enthusiasm arises. We get on board of the now historic gyoplane: helmet, interphones, and seat belts on, and Donatella explains what she’s doing before, during and after 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 particular 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, the colorful Burano, the magic Murano, S. Francesco del Deserto with its legends, and small islands of the protected wet-land area of the Lagoon.
The wind picks up, in the distance the waters in the sea are buffering, the air is chilly and think of how Donatella must have felt that cold winter day of November, in her open aircraft at -40C at commercial planes altitude, alone flying to heights where no other gyroplane aviator had flown before, while we are at around 30C and only few hundred feet/m above the ground. Courage is the key that opens horizons, and she surely has it.
In the back seat of her two-seat-autogyro: two floor pedals and one cloche, 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 gyoplane towards the brown and green of terraferma, then the sunny lagoon.
It feels like I’m part of the wind, the sky, and the 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 to show and keep her hands up in the air: cloche in my hand following what Donatella taught me, gently turning to the right, repositioning and straight ahead, than left… and I think to myself that this woman is so cool, that it’s such a priviledge to share the journey and flying is…
When I remind myself that Donatella let me in charge of her aircraft, and with her share the rising sensation I have that we’re going to meet up close the lagoon and its wonders, Donatella explains what is happening in flight: how the top and back rotors keep the gyoplane steady even in windy conditions like we find ourselves in, and because of the way the rotors are built to work we cannot do the loop-the-loop with it, and further more that experienced aviators can descend and land the aircraft with engines off if needed.
Those few minutes of piloting she graciously offers, feel like they last a magical lifetime. Control back to Donatella while we are approaching the coastline of Jesolo, fly over its beaches and return to the base, the club’s airfield.
What an unforgettable experience and most of all what an amazing lady: all of the stories, all aviators, aviatrixes and pioneers of the skies, like the most beautiful of the surprises appear and take shape. Grateful and honored, thank you Donatella, what an incredible experience, with great follow up sometime later.