Speed Stick Challenges Tough Guys to Take Flight

A lonely test flight over Santa Monica and Malibu tests the limits of Speed Stick, sweat and a reporter's courage.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

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This Piper Cherokee Warrior sports simple controls, 150 HP and a politically incorrect name.

It’s a simple marketing idea:

  1. Put on some deodorant.
  2. Try something that’s designed to scare the hell out of you.
  3. See if you sweat through the effectiveness of said deodorant.

That’s the idea behind the The Speed Stick Gear Up Challenge. Because I have armpits and occasionally do stupid, dangerous things, Speed Stick approached me to try one of their high adrenaline trials. If I survived it, or didn’t stink of death afterward, it’d be a success.

The choices included driving a supercar on a track. I’ve done that more times than I’ve hot dinners. I could’ve para-glided, but said hot dinners grew me up into a 6’3” 250 lb. (on a good day) lummox — and parachutes and gliding have their limits.

So, I went with flying a plane. I’d always wanted to give that a try, and this way I could do it while smelling fresh. The Speed Stick reps promised “the unforgettable thrill of taking the controls of an airplane…enjoying panoramic vistas across the landscape.”

Good enough for me.

I headed out to Proteus Air Services on the grounds of tiny Santa Monica Airport for a firm, yet friendly briefing on a Piper Cherokee Warrior – a 150 horsepower two-seater with the most basic instrumentation. Obviously, all Proteus trainers are FAA qualified instructors who teach flying because they love it.

There are several pre-flight checks to go through around the plane in the cockpit. I wedged into the left hand “driver’s seat” with the instructor shotgun. Both seats feature the same control yolk and pedals, but the right-hand trainer controls override the student’s station.

I could concoct a story of harrowing adventures and fighting the stick high over stormy seas. But, the trainer does most of the hard work. He’s in contact with the tower. He handles take off and landing. He deals with the throttle and trim.

I’m not afraid of flying. (How could I do this job if I did?) So, I wasn’t alarmed by the taxi and takeoff, beyond the fact that the Piper Cub isn’t built for rugged duty. I’ve seen Japanese tea rooms with sturdier frames.

Once at about 2,500 feet over Pacific Palisades, it was my time to take the stick. Even though the yolk has two grips, the pilot takes a light hold of only one. Fortunately, my track time testing cars taught me to grip a steering wheel lightly — to stay relaxed — even when excitement is building.

Controlling the Piper Cub is instinctual. Pull up on the stick, nose climbs. Push down, descend. Turning works the same as any car, except for your center of gravity shifting. To make the little plane turn, the pilot really has to bank hard over — and that was the first time the nerves flared. My contents shifted in flight as I turned right over Malibu and headed back to Santa Monica, looking right and seeing the ground through the right hand window.

Of course, once the turn was complete and I returned the plane to the desired altitude, I shrugged that tingle off like it was no big thing. I had it all the way.

The instructor took back the controls once I’d brought the plane under 2,000 feet with the Santa Monica runway in sight. He put it down without incident, and my Wright Brothers moment was in the books.

And, no – I didn’t stink and never sweat through my stylish golf shirt. Challenge met. Now, I just want to do it again, regardless of antiperspirant.

You can see some of the airborne images below:

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