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Fly Girl: My Afternoon Above the Clouds with Mike Goulian and Alpina Watches

Barbara Palumbo looks to the skies while also getting grounded in this article about the new limited edition Startimer Pilot in collaboration with Goulian Aerosports.

By Barbara Palumbo

Him: “So, I have a question for you.”

Me: “Yeah, go ahead. Shoot.”

Him: “Any chance you’d want to go flying with a daredevil pilot and Alpina watches next week?”

That was the conversation between my editor – Josh Shanks – and me, about seven days before the scheduled press event was to take place. I was fairly silent on the other end of the phone as I tried to figure out how exactly I felt about the offer. Would I be too afraid when the time came to enter the cockpit? How safe would I be? Would I need to update my last will and testament? Does my life insurance cover “death due to heart failure during a barrel roll maneuver with a stunt pilot”? 

Me: “Actually Josh, let me think about it and get back to you by the end of the day.”

As a nearly forty-five-year-old mother of two and wife of one (that I know about), saying “yes” to a trip like this needed to be a family decision, so naturally I immediately hit YouTube and watched as many Mike Goulian videos as my stomach could handle. What I learned was that Mike is no newcomer to the flight or watch worlds. He was literally born into flying and piloted planes before ever even getting his driver’s license. His father was an FAA examiner and in 1964, his family founded Executive Flyers Aviation; one of the largest flying schools in the Northeastern United States. This was no ordinary pilot, and considering I’m no ordinary watch journalist, I went to the two people whose opinions mattered most and asked them what they thought I should do: my kids. 

After explaining to them that I felt it was important to face my fears in order to show them that life is meant to be lived, they agreed that this was something I should go forward with, so after a couple of tight hugs and the handoff of a redheaded doll that my daughter requested I take with me, I sent Josh a text with two simple words:

“I’m in.” 

I was greeted at Boston Logan airport by Morgane Leynaud, the Marketing Manager at Alpina Watches, and Kaitlin Derkach of the Promotion Factory. There were three other members of the press who would be individually going up into the clouds with the world-famous pilot, and thanks to our Boston-bred driver Brian (who gave us the rundown on how to properly pronounce words like “blinker” [blinkuh] and “bar” [bah]), we were off to the Plymouth Municipal Airport to meet with Mike and his crew.

Goulian Aerosports is located in a private hangar and on the morning of our arrival, there were four planes positioned inside.

We were greeted by Karin Goulian – Mike’s wife and the marketing and sponsorship director of the business – as well as several members of the Goulian Aerosports team. There was a catered lunch feast awaiting us, though I was cautious about what I put into my body for fear that I’d see it again sooner than I’d like. 

After Mike gave everyone a quick tour of the hangar and schooled us on the planes inside of it, Morgane then surprised the four newbie pilots with customized Alpina flight jackets and something else that shocked us all.

Press events allow those of us who write for a living the opportunity to view, touch, and experience things like watches, often before the rest of the world gets their grimy Instagram-posting paws on them. Some of the benefits include meeting and spending time one-on-one with celebrities of all backgrounds: sports/film/television/art. Other benefits include travelling to exotic places, or partaking in once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and those are all wonderful things that I do that make me feel very lucky, but what I wasn’t prepared for was to be given a watch, and not just any watch, but the limited edition watch we had all been there to see. 

The Alpina Mike Goulian Team Special Startimer Pilot Automatic maintains all the desired pilot features of the Startimer but was crafted using a titanium-colored stainless steel 44mm case, which contrasts a matte-finished dark-blue dial displaying oversized, hand-applied indexes and a date window at 3 o’clock. The watch is accompanied by a black leather strap and the case back is engraved with both the signature of Mike Goulian and his race team name, “99MG.” The watch is limited to 188 pieces, making it even more surprising that Alpina would gift four of them to us from the start. But like the Catholic-guilt-ridden writer that I am, I opted not to take the watch for myself, instead handing it over to my husband (however, that flight jacket literally had my name written all over it; he’d have to pry that thing from my cold, dead hands [naturally I’m only using that specific cliché AFTER I survived the flight with Mike]). 

Once pleasantries were over it was time to talk business, namely what we were about to get ourselves into and which of us would be the first passenger.

After Mike gave us the rundown of the tricks we’d be performing using terms like “wingover,” “hammerhead,” and “barrel roll,” I – surprising even myself – called out to him that I wanted to be the first to go up. “All right!” he said. “Let’s do it.”

With my daughter’s doll already strapped into the Extra 300’s cockpit, I listened intently as Pablo Branco – Mike’s fellow pilot and team member – explained what to do should I need to jump out of the plane due to an emergency.

“If you hear Mike say ‘EJECT!’ you’ll need to undo these two clasps right here,” he said, pointing to my harness. “Although what you’re going to technically hear from Mike is, ‘EEEEEJJJJJEEeeecccccttttt!!!!!!’ because he’s going to say it and then he’s GONE. So, undo these two things, kick the plane away from you, and take both hands and pull this here metal handle on your parachute away from your body as hard as you can.” 

Let that sink in for a moment, folks.

Think about what it’s like to get a thirty-second course in survival and think about how many of you would have walked away right then and there.

“Got it,” I replied, half stupidly and half bravely, to which Pablo responded with a high-five before locking me into my canister of death.

Clearly, I’m being hyperbolic, because each moment was extraordinary, start to finish. Once I heard Mike’s voice come over the speakers letting me know that he was starting the engine and that we were about to do this thing, all my fears fell away. He’s a master at what he does, from how he flies the plane to how he interacts with you while you’re flying in it. He was funny and polite and kind and knowledgeable, and to say that I trusted him with my life would be the truest statement I could make. 

We ended the day with beautifully prepared French food, loads of French wine, tales, laughter, and the recollections of each of our experiences. Somewhere along the line, new phrases (like randomly saying “Freedom!”), and new hashtags (#AlltheGz) were added to our repertoires, but then it was time I bid farewell to my hosts before turning in for the night.

It was a heavenly experience (all puns intended) and I thank Alpina and the Goulian Aerosports team for inviting me to take part in it.

I honestly feel, after this, that there is nothing I would say “no” to if offered.

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