This one has featured very high on my bucket list for most of the time that I have been with my partner (coming up for 8 years). I always thought it looked cool watching people fly in stunt planes, but somehow, before I was in a relationship with a pilot; I perceived it to le less accessible to me as an experience than I have done since (along with most other aviation related hobby experiences). Flawed logic, since my partner didn’t actually hook me up with the experience, or even point me in the direction of it-but there you go, I look back and can’t think why I even had that perception now!
My partner got an aerobatics lesson as a gift for his 30th birthday some years ago from his parents. He flew in a Bulldog from Cirencester (or somewhere near there, I think). I hoped it would be the start of him getting his aerobatics rating, so that I might get a chance to go up with him as a passenger whilst he flew aerobatics. Since that hasn’t yet happened, I decided to take the bull by the horns and make it happen, rather than waiting for the day to come and making it someone else’s responsibility.
If you have already read my wing-walking experience post, you may remember that I wing-walked with a company called Aerobatic Tactics. They use a few planes based out of Headcorn (and they also fly out of Essex and London). One of these planes is an aerobatics stunt plane called a Cap 10 (they do also have a few other stunt planes, but the Cap 10 is the most aerobatics one they have available, so that’s what I asked to fly in).
My initial flying date was cancelled due to poor weather, though Tony, the instructor, let me know several days in advance that the forecast wasn’t looking good; so at least there were no wasted trips. Thankfully we’ve had a mini-heatwave this week, so the weather for my re-book date was stunning! …So great in fact, that my partner decided to treat me by taking us there in his little 2-seater, open top, classic car (a Spitfire).
Aside from the weather, we also lucked in with a few cool sightings, one of which was a large military Sea King helicopter landing at the airfield before our flight, and the also, 2 of the 4 planes from the Breitling Wing-Walking team landing just before us (re-fueling on their way to perform a display in Barcelona). Tony, the pilot who was instructing me actually used to fly for them too, so he had a chat with them on the radio, and we flew up alongside them for their approach (you can actually see this in my video if you watch near to the end-we were so close I could wave to them and see their expressions as they waved back, so I almost feel I’ve had a little bit of formation flying experience thrown into my day too-BONUS!)
Flying a plane is far more intuitive than the helicopter flying I did in my helicopter lesson last weekend too, so I never felt out of my depth. I was pretty amazed at just how responsive the Cap 10 was though. It was like playing a computer game with a joystick! Once we were up, Tony explained each stunt manoeuvre before demonstrating it, then repeating it with me, and finally letting me loose on the controls to fly it alone! It was a great feeling, and he was an excellent instructor who really put me at ease with his style of teaching.
Firstly he taught me aileron rolls there you increase your airspeed first, then pitch the nose up before turning the stick hard left to turn the plane 360 degrees! I couldn’t help but say “WOW!” …Next he taught me how to perform a loop by increasing the airspeed and pitching down slightly, before pulling the nose hard up until we had flown in a full circle. It wasn’t rocket science, but the resulting buzz of adrenaline was FAB!
One of the things that surprised me most was G-Force. I knew I would experience lots of G-force pushing me into my seat and negative-G lifting me in my harness.
I had however expected my long hair to be flying around all over the place-which is why I braided it (to keep it manageable). Surprisingly, in the video, despite lots of upside down flying, my hair was not handing. This was due to the fact we were mainly experiencing positive G (pushing me down into my seat). We experienced a maximum of 4.4 Gs during my lesson, which essentially means that my body felt 4 and a half times heavier than it actually is. Lifting your arms is very difficult and I felt like someone was crushing me into my seat as we came out of the loops!
We only experienced -0.16 of negative G force, which is what would lift you and make you feel weightless, and you can actually see my braids lift off when this happens. I hope you enjoy watching the video… I enjoyed the experience! I also didn’t feel sick; I suffered a fleeting moment of queasiness after the aerobatics right over the airfield, but it passed very quickly once we flew straight and level just afterwards.
The cockpit footage was taken with a Go-Pro digital camera (Tony asked me to take an SD card) and the rest was taken by my partner, and I edited it all together. Getting the timing right for the picture in picture stuff was actually REALLY HARD!
This was quite honestly, one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had. It was actually not as extreme as I had expected, and the manoeuvres felt really graceful and smooth-I had expected it to feel like a jerky theme park ride, but it was a lot more comfortable. I also didn’t suffer with sickness, though I did make sure I had eaten breakfast, and Tony said that people who are prepared for each manoeuvre are less likely to feel nauseous because they know what is coming-you will notice that throughout the video he is telling me what we’ll be doing next. He said ha has never had anyone for an aerobatics lesson hurl in the flight, which is reassuring!
- If this experience is something that you want to try then the biggest and best favour you can do yourself is to eat a good breakfast or lunch before you go… Lots of people make the mistake of not eating first, which is actually more likely to make you nauseous. Eating actually settles your stomach (it’s the same for any travel sickness).
- Tie long hair back (you might experience more nagative-G than I did).
- Tony was very good and told me how to tuck in the loose straps so that they wouldn’t hit me in the face… But I doubt all instructors are as thorough. I experienced being slapped in the face repeatedly during my zorbing experience recently, and it was one of my negative reflections, so it struck me that the Aerobatic Tactics team have a good attention to detail-brownie points duly awarded!
- Ask if your lesson includes a display if you want one. I had a cheaper 20 minute option that was available without this, but really wanted to have the video as a lasting reminder of the experience.
- If you start to feel sick, tell your instructor immediately, Tony told me that you can recover from brief nausea by flying straight and level for a short time, but if you leave it for too long before you raise the issue-it is unlikely that you will recover for the duration of the lesson.