MANY’S THE PILOT WHO FLIES BY THE seat of his or her pants. Joann Osterud of Oxnard, Calif., is one of the proud few who enjoys flying under said seat—that is, upside down. On July 24 the inverted aviator set new world records for endurance and distance by piloting her Ultimate 10-300S biplane belly-up for 4 hours and 38 minutes over a 658-mile course from Vancouver to remote Vanderhoof, B.C. “Why, Joann?” an eager TV reporter inquired moments before takeoff. “Because,” Osterud quipped, “I’m not too smart.”
Perhaps, but it certainly isn’t for any lack of blood flow to her brain. Other effects of long exposure to negative gravity conditions-upside-downness, to you and me—include plugged ears and sleepy feet, Osterud reports. “And after an hour you feel like you have a really bad head cold. Your ears plug up. Then your face swells up.” Osterud, 43, trained for her odd quest by dangling head-down from a special rig in her living room for 30 minutes to an hour at a time.
Her self-deprecating remarks aside, Osterud is anything but an airhead. A pilot for 22 years, she makes her living flying for United Airlines and does stunts for fun. And excitement: During a 1990 attempt at the upside-down record, her plane’s engine failed, so Osterud guided the crippled aircraft eight miles to a safe landing. “I was so disappointed,” she remembers now. “Then I was mad at myself, because we didn’t do something we should have done.”
Osterud, who is divorced from a pilot, says she’s “too busy for romance right now.” Her passion is flying, first and foremost. “Look at what we just did,” she says. “They say kids are supposed to do that kind of thing. I realize I’m not a kid anymore, but I sure feel like one. I’ll grow old, but I’ll never grow up.”