The loud hum of the World War II cargo plane's engine as it warmed — the vibrations shaking through my feet up through my head — was more than enough to make my palms sweat.
But when the gigantic lumbering plane made it to the Detroit River, one of the crewmembers threw open the aft doors and showed us junketing reporters that nothing separated us from the high, windy outdoors. With one hand I held onto a strap and let my body perilously dangle out of the plane for the killer photo ops. The Guardian Building ... the casinos ... abandoned buildings rushing by ... it was exhilarating.
For throngs of flight fans this weekend, however, the sweaty palms and exhilaration will be experienced looking up from the riverfront as one-man planes zip along this same path in the Red Bull Air Race World Series.
Begun in 2001, Air Racing is the new kid on the block of extreme sports. The third race of this year's series features 12 of the best pilots from around the world flying a 3.8-mile course in the middle of the Detroit River (between downtown Detroit and Windsor) in single-pilot planes that weigh less than your typical car. At speeds up to 250 mph, pilots navigate between an intricate course of inflatable pylons, called "Air Gates" that are 65 feet tall and 40 feet apart.
Timing is crucial for these maneuvers; many of the pilots are separated in ranks by milliseconds. Infractions such as touching a pylon or incorrectly making a turn can lead to seconds in penalties; flying too low or veering off course is grounds for disqualification.
If you find yourself hooked by the race's first time in Detroit, you'll be picking up a costly habit. After previous stops this year in Abu Dhabi and San Diego, the rest of this series' races are in Europe and Australia. —Maria Stella
Prime riverfront locations from Cobo Hall to the Ren Cen — including Hart Plaza — are closed to the public, ticketed and sold out on the Detroit side (except for some $600 tickets at press time). Windsor tickets at $10 and $160 (Canadian) were still available. Races begin at 2 p.m. both days. More info at redbullairrace.com.