Aerial Acrobatics and Gender Reassignment Surgery — A How-To Guide

Mark Craddock

Aerial Acrobatics[1] and Gender Reassignment Surgery[2] – A How-To Guide


The barrel roll is a combination of roll, pitch and yaw. The aircraft describes a horizontal spiral through the sky… To enter the barrel roll, we start with the usual wing-over through 90o. Set the aircraft up to 500 feet or so above the entry altitude, at 90o to the line feature, and you’ll find it works more comfortably if you do a left wing-over into a right-hand barrel roll or a right-hand wing-over into a left-hand barrel roll…

The barrel roll is a very comfortable and pleasant manoeuvre but difficult to fly accurately and in balance — and therefore is a very good manoeuvure to practice. Ultimately, you’ll be able to rest your knee-pad or other soft object on the instrument coaming and leave it there for the duration of the roll, just as Bob Hoover does with his cup of water.

  • Surgeon creates a triangular shaped incision in the perineum with a proxy vaginal skin flap.
  • Incision through the scrotum skin.
  • Dissecting penile skin from corpus spongiosum.
  • Further dissection of penile skin from the shaft of the penis.
  • Removal of the testes.

Here is a story that I know to be true. Over the years, I have heard many similar stories:[3]

A young boy sits down to Sunday dinner with the family. His teenage aunt is excitedly recounting watching the Beatles the previous night on Ed Sullivan and is proclaiming that they are musical geniuses on a par with Mozart and Beethoven. Miffed by a condescending response from the adults, she turns her attention to the boy. He has a minor speech impediment. He swallows his Rs, leaving him with an unintentional, posh British accent. As a result of her recent Beatles epiphany, the boy’s aunt has become an avid Anglophile and she loves to hear the boy speak. “You are so cute,” she tells him. “You’d make a lovely girl.”

“I am a girl,” the boy says.

The table is instantly quiet, then erupts in laughter. The boy’s father winces and shakes his head. The boy’s brothers mock him mercilessly. They don’t understand the joke any more than he does, but they know he is the butt of it. Six months of speech therapy will cure the boy of swallowing his Rs. And one Sunday dinner cures him of ever uttering those four words again. Later, a schoolteacher will ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. He’ll pause.

“A pilot,” he will say, knowing it’s a lie.

The Cuban Eight is a comfortable combination of looping and rolling which avoids the fast, high-g pull-out of the loop and the negative g of the slow roll.

It consists of a straight-loop entry until a 45 o downward inverted path. The pitch rate is ‘checked’ and the aircraft rolled erect (aileron with rudder), and the aircraft is recovered into an immediate second loop. Again the pitch is checked in the inverted dive, and the aircraft is rolled erect and recovered to its original heading and altitude. A half-Cuban uses the first part of this manoeuvre to reverse direction.

  • In the first phase of creation ofvaginal canal, surgeon dissects the urethra from the corpus spongiosum.
  • He puts a clamp on the urethra before he cuts through it.
  • Surgeon removes all unwanted tissue from the penis [and] prepares the glans penis for the creation of the clitoris.
  • The clitoris/glans penis remains connected to the body with the nerve and dorsal artery.
  • Surgeon creates clitoris from the corona and frenulum of the glans penis, which are the most sensitive parts.
  • The clitoral nerve will stay intact.
  • The patient will be fully sensate and orgasmic.
  • Surgeon splits the penile skin.
  • Left and right part will be fashioned in such way that they will create part of the labia majora.

On most Sunday mornings, we’d hear the rumble just about the same time as the bells from the steeple of Holy Trinity Church. Everyone in Trinidad, Colorado, knew that sound. It was Dr. Stanley Biber, surgeon, putting his stunt bi-plane through its paces. The engine’s drone rose and fell with the choreography of the doctor’s dance with gravity – barrel rolls, multiple loops, a steep climb, then a death spiral, the pilot pulling out a split second, it seemed, before his fragile toy was splayed across the sandstone mesa of Simpson’s Rest. Even in a town known for colorful Western characters, Dr. Biber was a unique splash of paint. He was known around Trinidad for his Sunday morning feats of aerial precision, his over-the-top hubris, his brutal deadpan wit and his no-nonsense bedside manner.

And he was known around the world as a pioneer of gender reassignment surgery.

According to his New York Times obituary, Dr. Biber performed his first “sex change surgery” in 1969, at the request of a desperate friend.

“Not even two decades had passed since a G.I. from the Bronx named George Jorgensen became Christine Jorgensen in Denmark, in 1952,” the Times wrote. “Few surgeons in the United States had ever seen a sex-change operation, much less performed one. But Dr. Biber was young and sure of his surgical prowess. In Korea, he had once performed 37 operations in a row before passing out from exhaustion. Working from a set of hand-drawn diagrams he obtained from the Johns Hopkins University hospital, he performed the operation.”[4]

Between 1969 and his retirement in 2003, Dr. Biber performed his signature operation more than 5,000 times. For many years, he completed two surgeries a day, three days a week. His cottage industry prospered with barely a raised eyebrow and only a few whispers among the local populace. This was even more remarkable considering that the town’s only hospital was run by Catholic nuns. That’s hubris.

I never saw Dr. Biber perform an operation.[5] But I watched him repeatedly slice the crisp morning sky with a deft hand and steely nerves. The two pursuits, I believe, were closely connected. Both involved split-second decisions that could mean lifeordeath. Both required incredible focus and skill. Both were high-risk performances played on a larger-than-life stage. It’s not surprising that Dr. Biber retired[6] only because his malpractice insurer refused to continue covering him — at the age of 80. He died a couple of years later. His obituary listed the cause of death as “complications of pneumonia.” I’m betting it was complications of boredom.

The roll-off-the-top was developed by a World War I pilot named Max Immelman, as a rapid way of reversing direction without loss of altitude, in the least space, and with minimum loss of energy. Like the gentler chandelle, kinetic energy (airspeed) is exchanged for potential energy (altitude). The roll-off-the-top consists of a loop to inverted flight and an aileron roll or slow roll (or even a flick roll) to level flight. Thus the aircraft changes direction quickly…

The true roll-off-the-top is not an easy manoeuvre. Entry speed and load factors are higher than a loop so that the aircraft has more energy to roll at the top. The aircraft is slow at the start of the roll and almost full forward stick is required to maintain inverted level flight.

During the pull-up the aircraft is at high speed and high g. Control inputs should be tempered. The roll needs to be started with the nose well above the horizon, and in the knowledge that care is needed.

  • Surgeon sutures the scrotal skin flaps together into a tubular shape.
  • One end will be sutured while the other end will remain open to form the vaginal introitus.
  • Surgeon inserts the tubular lining of the vagina.
  • The skin will fuse with the vagina’s inner wall.
  • Surgeon fashions the vaginal introitus.

It’s 2008. My jazz trio finishes a set at a trendy microbrewery in Trinidad. After the coal mines closed, tourism became the engine driving the local economy. And we’re knee-deep in tourists tonight. I push up to the bar, elbow-to-elbow with a broad-shouldered woman with a wry smile and a perfectly coiffed blond wig.

“Hi. I’m Sabrina Marcus[7],” she offers. “You play beautifully.”

“Thanks. Glad you like it. I’m Mark.”

“You wouldn’t believe how many transgender women I know who started out as Mark,” she deadpans, clearly practiced in answering questions before they’re asked. “Think about it. Sabrina Marcus, Marci Bowers…”

“I know what you mean.”

“Yeah, I think someone should do a study on the correlation between boys’ names and transgender phenomena.”

“No. You don’t get it. I know what you mean.”

Her eyes widen. She knows exactly what I mean. But she’s not sure where my head’s at. Guilt, shame, denial and a paranoid level of secrecy are all part of the “gender dysphoria” baggage-set. She leans in close.

“So what’s your story, sister?” she whispers. “You’re looking rather, um, stealth. But I love the hair.”

“No need to whisper. I’m good. I passed for almost a year as a woman. But I can’t transition yet. Actually, once I accepted myself, my transexuality, the urgency of transitioning kind of eased up.”

I take a long sip of my beer.

“I’m not ruling it out altogether. Just not today.”

Sabrina turns back to her rum and coke and smiles.

“A psychologist once told me transition is like riding a train. You can get off any time you want. There’ll always be another one coming down the track when you’re ready.”

“Funny,” I say. “To me, it always felt more like flying an airplane.”

The Wing Over is a very easy manoeuvre to perform but a very difficult manoeuvre to define — in that it can be almost anything you want it to be.

It can be a climbing manoeuvre, a descending manoeuvre, a turning manoeuvre, a tight manoeuvre or loose manoeuvre; it can have high angle of bank, low angle of bank, high g, low g, high power, low power… The wing-over is the easiest, most pleasant to fly, and yet most useful manoeuvre available in the repertoire… it is the foundation for all manoeuvreing and for the development of feel, anticipation, coordination and judgment. It is also a means for developing a work cycle of looking out and looking where you’re going to be going.

  • A few weeks after the surgery, the swelling will be gone.
  • Within a few months the vulva will look completely authentic and natural.

[1] Excerpts from “(The Master Pilot’s Manuals) Aerobatics Principles and Practice 2nd Ed.,” David Robson, 2004, Air Pilot Publishing Ltd., Bedfordshire, England. Bear in mind, these excerpts come from a professional training manual. Do not try this at home. It should go without saying that the same is true for gender-reassignment surgery. If this seems comically obvious, consider the 2006 case of a 20-year-old who was taken to the hospital after removing his penis and scrotum with a kitchen knife. The physicians who documented this in an article for a psychiatric journal said that 127 similar cases had been reported in American emergency rooms prior to 2006.

[2] Captions from a 2010 You Tube video by Veronique Renard, who documented the surgeries of seven transgender women. (

[3] From the NHS: There are no physical symptoms of gender dysphoria, but there are a range of feelings that people with the condition may experience, and behaviours that they may display. In many cases, a person with gender dysphoria will begin to feel that there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity during early childhood.

[4] “Stanley H. Biber, 82, Surgeon Among First to do Sex Changes, Dies,” The New York Times, January 21, 2006.”We turn out a real good product,” Dr. Biber told The Rocky Mountain News in 2004. “I have one former patient, a man who became a woman and is now married to a gynecologist. Her husband doesn’t know.”

[5] At least not while awake. He removed my tonsils in 1970. He also put eight stitches in my ankle after a fishing mishap, and cauterized a vein in my nose after a schoolyard dust-up.

[6] Before he retired, Dr. Biber took on a protégée. Dr. Marci Bowers, OB/GYN, formerly Dr. Mark Bowers, trained under the doctor and took over his practice in 2003. Recently, she moved her practice from Trinidad, Colo., to San Mateo, Calif., ending Trinidad’s reign as the “sex-change capital of the world.”

[7] Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, an aeronautics engineer, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor on June 26, 2008, at a hearing examining discrimination against transgender Americans in the workplace. She was a NASA employee working in the Space Shuttle program before her transition from Mark to Sabrina.


Over the course of a 25-year career at seven US newspapers, Mark Craddock has covered a diverse range of subjects, including the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles; The 1994 Summer Olympics in Atlanta; and the funeral of former US President Richard Nixon.

He is the recipient of more than two dozen awards from a variety of state and national journalism organizations. Since 2002, he has been a lecturer at Colorado State University and Pueblo (Colo.) Community College. In 2013, Craddock received an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Edinburgh Napier University. He was named one of Scotland’s “emerging writers” by the Scottish Literary Trust and invited to read a short story at the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival.