Walking On Air
For the past couple of weekends the skies over South Florida have been filled with different aircraft from all over the world as two very popular air shows have taken place. And if this is any indication for the rest of America, the summer Air Shows are going to thrill and delight aviation enthusiasts of all ages until school starts again in the fall.
Being in attendance, my favorite performances were again, and have always been, those of the acrobatic pilots. And outside of the Airforce guys flying faster than the speed of sound with their hair on fire with cool nicknames like 'Maverick' or 'Goose', the acrobatic pilots have an uncanny ability to dazzle the crowd with high-flying feats of aerobatics in airplanes that the child in all of us just want to storm a barn with.
Which is why, this installment of The Gentleman's Day Off is somewhat of a throwback. I was again in awe by what I saw in the skies and was instantly reminiscent to the time when I had the opportunity to fly with the Breitling Wingwalkers, now known as AeroSuperBatics Wingwalkers, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to be up there, I can tell you first hand that the experience is completely nerve racking, but is unequivocally a bucket-list item that will change the way you look at things in your everyday life. I was assisted by Danielle Hughes (one of the skilled ladies that does, or did, this for a living) and as much as I loved her enthusiasm, I must admit I was more apprehensive than I had anticipated the previous day when I got the invitation, now standing next to the aircraft.
Danielle started off by jumping right into it. Following in her footsteps she guided me up onto the plane, through the cockpit, and onto the upper wing of a vintage 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane. She assured me that they have a 100% safety record and that she would never let anything bad happen to me. This was said as she pulled the remaining strap on my harness tight, patted me on the shoulder and said 'you're going to love this.' prior to takeoff.
David Barrell, one of the ace pilots, yelled something that sounded like 'fire in the hole' and the propeller on the front of the Stearman sprang to life out front of the 750hp engine far beneath me. The excitement and anxiety did grow as the preflight check began. It seemed like forever as we idled at the end of the taxi way, but eventually the brakes were released and we began to taxi our way to the end of the airfield.
A 'Ride-iculous' Flight
Air clearance was given and Dave throttled forward. And this is how I found myself moments later zooming through the wild blue yonder, literally 'on a wing and a prayer', strapped to the top of the vintage Boeing Stearman.
At two thousand feet in the air, everything became tranquil. The rolling terrain beneath me reached out to the horizon. I felt a sense of freedom as I chuckled to myself as my mind grasped the idea that I was strapped to the wing of an airplane flying through the sky.
Over in the distance I could see a second Stearman being piloted by Martyn Carrington. I was amazed at how graceful it was from the raised advantage point, I was even more amazed when the two airplanes turned and headed directly for one another. As Dave pulled the stick to the left we swung away from the head-on Martyn and again pure enjoyment filled my veins. The small child inside me who has always loved roller coasters and flying finally accepted the fact that the two concepts could be combined.
The power of the plane can not be felt unless you are up there and can feel it for yourself. Hard banks, power climbs, steep dives, and zoom flypasts were on the menu for the day and Dave didn't forget a single one.
Tomorrow is Going to be Dull
As we returned to terra ferma the only feeling that can be described is giddiness. The uncontrollable urge to let out a “whooo!” and clap your hands can’t be held back and somewhere inside you know that your outlook on life has been changed.
Climbing down I was all smiles and I shook David’s hand and thanked him for a lifetime experience, one that my friend Michael called a “bucket list item”...and he was right. David was smiling as he saw that I had recovered from the mental torment from before. “I told you you’d love it.”
The AeroSuperBatics team is the only formation team in the world. There are other aircraft that perform in the same way, but the AeroSuperBatics team is the only one that flies two aircraft for shows instead of one.
When the day finished I looked back on my experience and smiled to myself; I was actually on the wing of an airplane. How many people can say that? The AeroSuperBatics team is a group of people who have amazing jobs and are very entertaining to talk to. In my mind, I now see myself with an aviator scarf wrapped around my neck and a leather flight jacket. See, I told you that something had changed.
I asked Dave how he fell into the job as a show-pilot, his response, "I saw an advert in a magazine and just applied. Once I got the job there was no looking back. I’ll be doing this for as long as I can."
And I personally wouldn't want to fly with anybody else. I hope that I will have the opportunity to fly with the team again someday; I promised Dave he could do a barrel roll if that ever occurred. But if I never get that chance, I’ll be happy to watch from the crowd, probably with a little envy as well. Dave, if you and Martyn are reading this, give me a call...we need to do this again!
The Ops Room
RFC Rendcomb Airfield
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Photo Credit: Neil Hernandez
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