A few months later, he thought of Peggy when he met another would-be wheelchair aviator at a fly-in, which is a sort of ultralight get-together. He called the local Paraplane dealer and asked about Thomas, got her number, found the plane had never been worked on and offered to do it for her.

Thomas was suspicious because she'd already been through two helpers," and Glebe had no formal mechanical, let alone aviation mechanics, background, just a lot of self-confidence. It was the beginning of a testy relationship.

I found the plane in her backyard in a pile of dust," Glebe recalled. It took me six months to break down her distrust."

They were a study in opposites: You only have to look at our dogs to see how different we are," Thomas says. Indeed, her helper dog, Moose, is a mellow fellow; Glebe's yellow mongrel, Wiley, is a quivering Frisbee-chaser with semaphore ears. Once when Glebe called Wiley, she ran right over the hood of my car rather than going around it. Thomas thinks of Glebe the same way. Every time I see him, I just want to shake him and give him Valium," she says.

Of course, without Glebe's hyperactive genius, she wouldn't be flying. Her suspicions waned when he came to take measurements, fiddled with the hand controls to determine if they should be vertically or horizontally mounted and contrived a seat she knew would work. He neglected his woodworking business and toiled nonstop-400 hours' worth-like a man obsessed.

The tensions came to a head in the spring. They had talked on the telephone, and Thomas sensed Glebe was agitated about something. She drove to see him. He had the look of a dog that had messed on the living-room rug, and he confessed that he had rolled her plane while testing it, but that he'd already replaced the propeller and had repaired the frame damage. She blew up, he blew up. She'd been ripped off already. He'd been working for free.

On a sunny afternoon in May, he wheeled the completed rig onto a dirt-strip runway near I-17 north of Phoenix. He skipped the preflight briefing with Peggy for fear of talking her out of flying. My anxiety level was about 95 out of a possible 100," he remembers. Thomas was tentative, but when Glebe told her to throttle up, she bounced down the strip, the chute filled and she was airborne.

Now there's a psychology to first flights. You get up high and think, This is great, this is great, this is... 300 frigging feet in the air!" and the panic sets in. Thomas found herself praying, looking down at Glebe on the ground and thinking, You bastard! Why did you let me do this?"

part 1 of 2


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