VIDEO: Biplane fun promotes airshow

Reporter Angela Thompson soars over the Illawarra in a biplane. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Reporter Angela Thompson soars over the Illawarra in a biplane. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

One hundred and fifty metres above the Illawarra coastline and a world away from the stale cabins of everyday aircraft, limitless fresh air feeds into the open cockpit of the retro red Lilly Warra.

Like the blonde bombshell mascot painted on her side, the biplane is carefree and all style.

As her lone passenger, I have been given overalls, goggles and a headset. It all adds to the excitement, and the temptation to imagine I am Goose and pilot Chris Clark is Maverick.

But it is difficult to immerse in Hollywood fantasy when you’re nervous. 

A restored 1943 Boeing Stearman, the Lilly Warra might be steeped in nostalgic charm but she is an aerobatic aircraft, capable of performing stomach-churning mid-air tricks.

Video on YouTube shows her flipping and rolling and jerking through the sky, as if suffering a fit. 

We have discussed on the ground the possibility of doing some of this, but as we take off, the decision flaps in the breeze. Goose? Or chicken?

The seven-point seatbelt is reassuringly tight over my shoulders and lap, and the cockpit rises above shoulder height, offering at least the illusion of snugness.

Angela Thompson gets a pep talk from Chris Clark, left, Paul Anzani and Andrew Musgrave. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Angela Thompson gets a pep talk from Chris Clark, left, Paul Anzani and Andrew Musgrave. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Parts of the ocean are turquoise – brilliant against Lilly Warra’s red. It is a perfect day.

The inner workings of the biplane are laid mostly bare. Near my feet, two pedals move up and down as if on their own, but in fact under the control of Clark, who buzzes my ear on approach to Scarborough.

‘‘Are you ready?’’

 All that air, and I am breathless.

We are joyriding to Scarborough ahead of a region-first air show at the weekend, where the biplane – normally viewed from below – will put on a rare eye-level performance for visitors to the garden of the Scarborough Hotel.

It is the hotel’s elevated position over the ocean that will make the unique perspective possible. Some low-lying parts of the show may even make it possible to see the aircraft’s tricks from above.

The show is a collaboration between the Southern Biplane Adventures performance acrobatic team and the hotel, where the garden will be transformed into a viewing platform for the afternoon.

The hotel’s Paul Anzani is expecting much to come from the vantage point.

‘‘It’s going to be almost like a cinematic experience,’’ he said. 

Reporter Angela Thompson prepares for her flight. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Reporter Angela Thompson prepares for her flight. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

‘‘Like you can almost touch it.’’ 

Back in the sky, Maverick’s question hangs for a moment. 

There is a little back button to press in order to respond. I press it.

‘‘OK.’’

We wingover. We barrel roll. We loop. The horizon dips and turns sideways and the sun spins. Several times, it becomes impossible to tell which way is up. The G-Force dial moves almost to four.

We wingover. We barrel roll. We loop. The horizon dips and turns sideways and the sun spins. Several times, it becomes impossible to tell which way is up.

Clark, a past performer in the Red Bull Extra 200, plans to perform all the tricks on Sunday, plus some bigger ones including the humpty – a vertical manoeuvre – Cuban eights, and the more difficult snap roll, where the aircraft will look like it is tumbling. 

‘‘It’s easy to get going,’’ Clark said. 

‘‘The exit is the challenging part.’’ 

Clark and his family hand-picked their flagship biplane from an aircraft enthusiast in New Hampshire in the United States before setting up business at Illawarra Regional Airport in 2010.

It had been used as a training aircraft by the Tuskegee Airmen - the first African-American pilots to enter the military - during World War II. 

For safety reasons, it has been stripped of most original elements and upgraded to modern standards.

As the mid-point of our joy flight nears, Clark proposes another trick.

He had described it earlier - the stall turn, where the plane would shoot upwards and then stop, before twisting away.

‘‘One more?’’

Goose hesitates. Takes another breath.

‘‘One more.’’

The air show is at the Scarborough Hotel on Sunday from 2pm.

Angela Thompson flew courtesy of Southern Biplane Adventures. 

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