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Female pilot takes flying to the extreme

August 09, 2004

ARNOLD, Md. (AP) - Midway through a loop over Kent Island, Nancy Lynn and her student ease off on the stick. For a few seconds, her plane hangs inverted over the horizon.

"Now carve it," Lynn says, helping pull back. "And here come the Gs."

That's when the pressure hits: a wave of force that starts at the head and pulses down their bodies as the plane loops back upright.

"I love that part," Lynn says over the headset.

In more than two decades of airborne acrobatics, the single mother from the Broadneck Peninsula has experienced the daily joys - and dangers - of unlimited flying.

Her late husband, Scott Muntean, who founded Lynn Aviation with her in the early 1990s at Bay Bridge Airport, lost an eye and broke his jaw after their plane nose-dived into a field more than a decade ago. He died of a brain tumor two years ago.

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The part owner of her last plane died in an October crash that totaled the plane and grounded her business, Lynn Aerobatics.

One of a handful of pilots who teach the difficult art of extreme flight to civilians, Lynn is back in the air this summer, performing and teaching in a new $500,000 performance aircraft she bought two months ago.

Regular customers who fly in from around the world for lessons with her couldn't be happier.

Dave Whaley, a car dealer in Henderson, N.C., who hopes to become an air show pilot, comes up six to eight times a year to refine his snap rolls, loops, hammerheads and other maneuvers for $400 a session.

Since she got her new Extra 300L in mid-May, Whaley has been back twice.

"She has the ability to take me all the way to the top," Whaley said. "I thought I'd have to go all around the country to learn. But it's all there, right in Annapolis."

Lynn's lessons are not rides. Her plane has a two-seat cockpit, and she gives her students the controls most of the time, talking them through the maneuvers.

"You don't experience it unless you actually have the controls in your hand," she said. "I'm always working to communicate. And you'd be amazed how easy you can learn when you're under pressure."

As one of the few women in her profession, she's developed a reputation, thanks in part to several short segments on cable television's Discovery Wings channel.

At air shows, she dresses in red to match her aircraft, complete with Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers, her preferred footwear. The thin soles help her keep the feel of the rudder pedals, she said.

Some of her favorite clients are current and former military pilots looking for extreme maneuvers.

"They're interesting," she said. "They're worried they're going to get sick with this woman they don't know."

Yes, vomit has been an issue. Throughout the flights, Lynn frequently asks her students to register their nausea on a scale of 1 to 10, just to make sure.

"When the military guys tell me they're at 2, I know it's time to get worried," she said.

Her customers also include many regular hobby pilots looking to try something new or prepare for a worst-case scenario.

"If you happen to get into a situation, if you have the training, you're much more likely to get out of it," said Robert Saltsman, an audiologist from Lutherville, Md., who has logged 40 hours with Lynn Aerobatics. "It's a pretty good niche market. It's way beyond the normal."

Built in Germany, Lynn's single-prop craft is made of carbon fiber. It can fly at 253 mph and pull up to 10 Gs, or 10 times the force of normal gravity.

The plane was funded through a loan from BankAnnapolis after Lynn was turned down by her former lenders.

"It looks like a good business," said Carol Kasper, a senior vice president for business development.

"This is what your hometown bank is supposed to do, to look outside the box. And she's been successful for years. She just needed a new plane."

Lynn is back on the air show circuit with a choreographed routine developed with her 16-year-old son, Pete.

"I get to be one of the few mothers who gets along with her teenage son, and I love that. We're business partners," Lynn said. "He's the sensible one."

The Lynns hope to expand their air show performances in the future. Though a show can often bring in $2,000 or more in fees, it's difficult to maintain without corporate sponsorship.

Meanwhile, Lynn and her students will continue putting her plane through its paces over Route 404.

"I can usually call on a nice day, fly over and go up," Saltsman said. "It's not inexpensive, but the fun factor's there, to be sure."

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