My life changing free-flight experienceMikey 7 comments
I don't normally do this kind of thing, but I just have to share with you all what was probably the most exciting experiences of my life.
Before I begin I have to explain that this all came about because right now I am in the middle of building a new web site for Air Australia (here's the old web site - that's obviously not my work!). These guys do some really amazing stuff, like provide patient air transport, chartered flights, flight training, the Black Robin River Run (the closest experience you will get to the Red Bull insanity) and the one that peaked my interest the most - aerobatic thrill flights.
Air Australia also pioneered the Mile High club service here in Australia, and when I say service I mean they provide the pilot and the aircraft - nothing else. If you're not sure what that the Mile High club is then check out this wiki.
So during discussions with the owner/managing director Charles "Chuck" McElwee, he insisted that in order for me to help deliver the best web site experience possible, I would would have to experience an aerobatic thrill flight first hand. My colleague Alex also got 'volunteered' for air duty, which is how we both ended up standing on the tarmac last Sunday morning.
Let me interject at this time to let you all know that I'm that guy who has a hard time stomaching those crazy rides at the carnival each year. Anything beyond a simple ferris wheel and you don't want to be sitting next to me. I put these thoughts out of my head for Sunday.
Something I found very curious was the person who booked my air time said that it's better to go in with a full stomach instead of an empty - totally the opposite of what I would have put money on. The reasoning behind this (I was informed of later by one of the pilots) is that if you're gonna get sick, it's better to actually have something down there instead of dry reaching. Makes perfect sense.
So, it's 10:30am and I've convinced James (the pilot) to let me mount my hi-def camera and wide angle lens on the dashboard, but the canopy wouldn't close with the lens so off it came. 10:35 and he has put us in position on the runway ready for take off, and says it's totally cool if I do the honours. Push the throttle in and bring us up to around 1500ft, keep the nose on the horizon.
Now here's the crazy part about this - I didn't hesitate. I've never flown a plane before, but as a frequent flight simulator aficionado on my PC it was actually very easy to make the transition. Those games are modelled after their real life counter parts after all. I recognised many of the dials and controls, so aside from a few shaky nerves (this was real life you know!) I agreed and did exactly that, and it was surprisingly easy.
Me keeping it steady along the runway.
In less than a minute I had us at 1500ft and banked right towards Rottnest Island for a little free flying before we got stuck into the aerobatics.
I have to say that, even though this was an unexpected pleasure, the take-off and free-flying was indeed a more amazing experience than the insane aerobatics I was about to encounter.
I take us up until levelling out around 1500ft. Smooth take-off (maybe a little steep) I don't mind saying myself :-)
James asks me to tighten my harness and get ready. I'm nervous, but the vomit bag is within easy reach. It turns out barrel rolls are too much fun as is the totally weightless zero G experience. Now I know how astronauts feel, except without the space suit and you know - permanent totally awesome spacy-ness.
3G loops however are something else. Imagine your body weight increasing by a factor of 3 in the space of a few seconds. That means I went from weighing 90kg to 270kgs and back again. As you can imagine after a few of these it doesn't sit well with someone who gets nauseated one small carnival rides. No it's not a pleasant feeling, but the view was spectacular. The highlight of the stunts was climbing towards the sky before suddenly diving towards the ocean at breakneck speed. Obviously we were much higher than 1500ft at that stage. After a few minutes of these air stunts I informed James that it was about time he leveled out, lest I be introducing him to my morning cornflakes.
After a few barrel rolls and loops magically performed by James, Nausea sets in for me. I'm allowed to free-fly over Jandakot for a little to help settle my stomach.
I wasn't feeling very stable, so to help take my mind of my stomach I was allowed to take the stick and free-fly for a couple of minutes. This experience was amazing.
I was unsurprisingly not allowed to land the aircraft, and honestly I think I would have freaked out if he asked me too.
Landed. Breakfast still safely where I left it.
Happy to be on the ground.
My good friend Jim says I did well. I think that roughly translates into "congrats for not up-chucking".
After all that, my stomach was still a little green inside, a feeling that didn't go away until around 9:30 that night - seriously. But the experience is something I will never forget, so much that I'm now looking into taking regular flying lessons with the aim of getting my pilots licence.
Something not many people don't know about me is that being a pilot was always a life dream of mine from a very young age, but for one reason or another I never pursued it. Who knows - I might have a change of career in 5 years time.
I need to give you something to take away from this article. So let me say that if you can find the time and the means, I enthusiastically recommend going on one of these flights. It's scary, breathtaking and totally puts you out of your comfort zone - but in a good way.
PS: For those wondering about the video: The footage is being fixed before I can edit it. The camera wasn't mounted properly so the footage turned out very shaky (as you can see from the earlier screenshot), something we're trying to rectify with special software. More on that later.