MIAMI — It began in high school when a blind date took her for an airplane ride. Now, 16 years later, Linda Meyers is not only one of the best acrobatic pilots in the world but she is also managing director of an unusual aviation museum here.
"When the plane took off, I knew I was going to be a pilot," Meyers recalled of her first flight from a Michigan City, Ind., airport when she was 17.
Since then, she has amassed 2,500 hours in the air, including 1,000 hours of acrobatic time, and earned instrument, commercial, multi-engine and seaplane ratings.
Not only does Meyers pilot her specially built 200-horsepower single-seat acrobatic plane, but she has flight time in such military aircraft as the P-51 and P-40 fighters, A-26, B-23 and four-engine B-17 bombers and a 1929 B-100 biplane, one of the oldest Navy fighters.
These and many other antique aircraft are part of the Weeks Air Museum at Tamiami Airport, where she is employed.
"I love to fly all kinds of aircraft," she said, climbing into a huge 1941 Stinson L-1. "It's a challenge and I'm in control."
Learning to fly was financially difficult for Meyers after she left her New Carlisle, Ind., home and attended Indiana University for two years and spent three years at Purdue.
"I worked several jobs to help pay for college and, in between, saved money for flying lessons," she recalled.
While in college, she joined a sports parachuting club and made 14 jumps.
In 1976, she received her private pilot's license and met Kermit Weeks, who was studying aviation engineering at Purdue. Weeks was already an acrobatic pilot.
Soon after, Weeks left school and returned to Miami. A year later, when Meyers was graduated with a degree in interior design, she joined him in South Florida.
"Flying was important to me. I wanted, at the time, to be an airline pilot, but I got more and more into acrobatics."
Her early lessons in that specialized type of flying came from Weeks and Bill Thomas, who operates a flight school at Tamiami.
Her first acrobatic competition was in 1979 at Sherman, Tex., and, two years later, she qualified for the U.S. team.
In her first world competition in 1982 in Austria, Meyers won a silver medal in one of the women's categories. Two years later in Hungary, she took a gold medal and, in 1986, placed first at the world trials in England--both times taking category victories.
The world acrobatics championships are held every two years, and the overall title has eluded her thus far.
"I hope to God I win the overall championship in Calgary, Canada, next year," she said.
Two or three times a week, she practices aerial maneuvers--inverted spins, outside snap rolls and others--to improve her efficiency over a prescribed course.
"About 20 minutes of intense acrobatics is all you can take," Meyers explained. "It's physically and mentally tiring."
When not behind the controls of an aircraft, Meyers is busy at the museum, which Weeks began putting together in 1981 and opened to the public in 1986.
"We've got 30 antique planes on display and almost all of them are in flying condition. I want to make this the best aviation museum in the world," she added.
The museum and the world overall acrobatic title are her only goals at the moment.
"After that, I'll come up with something else," she said.