Monday, July 08, 2013

Aerobatic pilot is still winging it at age 77: Rye woman loves to fly

At age 77, Rye's Sigrid Baumann is a grandmother and snowbird who winters in West Palm Beach, Fla. But the senior citizen stereotype stops there because Baumann also pilots her own aerobatic monoplane and does "a lot of upside down" flying.
"I love to do hammerheads," Baumann said, explaining that the airborne maneuvers involve flying straight up, then falling nose-down toward earth, then flying straight back up again.

Baumann said she also loves flying loops, snaprolls and other gravity-defying feats in her Extra 200 plane she custom ordered in her native Germany. "It's not something for everyone," she said.

During the warmer months, Baumann flies out of Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, and for the winters she has her plane flown to Florida. Until recently, the local barnstormer piloted the plane to Florida herself, a trip that takes a day and a half and a watchful eye on the gas gauge.

On land, Baumann drives a Porsche Carrera she said she wishes she could drive on the German autobahn network, a national highway system without a speed limit.

In spite of her age — and two titanium rods with six screws in her spine to repair an injury from a fall — Baumann said she now flies once or twice a week. Usually, she finds a spot in the sky to "just play around." Typically she's alone.

Baumann describes piloting her 200-horsepower, two-seater plane, with her name painted outside the cockpit, as "old-fashioned hand flying."

"It looks pretty complicated, but it's not," she said.

From the pilot's seat, which Baumann said "fits like a glove," she faces a control panel with dozens of dials, knobs and toggle switches. She said she always has her hand on "the stick," triggering wing flaps to open and close, and her plane to dive and dart.

But don't call them stunts, Baumann said. Her high-altitude loops, spins and rolls, she explained, are "really organized maneuvers" that require plenty of practice to execute.

Views below of the ocean, New Hampshire mountains and lakes, make it "a really wonderful area to fly in," she said.

Baumann first became "fascinated with flying" as a toddler when she saw a Zeppelin hover above her in Germany and she's since logged 2,500 hours in a cockpit. She earned her pilot certificate in 1973, the same year she was hired to work as coordinator of the U.S. Aerobatic Team championship in France.

She took a hiatus from flying while raising two children and working as chief financial officer for her husband Hans' global valve manufacturing business. But in 1989, Baumann was back in a little plane, being introduced to loops and rolls, and "fell in love with acrobatic flying," she said.

Before long, she was starring in competitive contests and air shows.

In addition to the Extra 200, Baumann has flown a Piper Cherokee 140, a Cessna 150, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a Cessna 150 Aerobat, a Super Decathalon, a Zlin 242L and gliders. She said that not once while flying vertical, upside down, or pulling 4 Gs has she ever become ill.

To stay in the cockpit as she approaches her eighth decade of life, Baumann said she eats healthy and exercises regularly. Because of the flying, she said, her legs are "very strong and I like to keep it that way."

Baumann's children and grandchildren have flown with her and a granddaughter, now 21, recently earned her pilot license.

"I'm very proud of her," said Baumann, who describes being a grandmother as her greatest passion. And this grandmother said she has "no desire to slow down."

"I only want to keep going," she said. "I think it's very important to have a passion and to keep on going."

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