Imagine rising to 3000 feet in a plane not too dissimilar to something used in World War II when the engine seems to quietly stall, the nose tips towards the ocean above Port Kembla and you start spinning.
This is exactly what happened to me on Friday.
I’ve often admired from the ground the stunt pilots twisting and turning to please the crowds at the Wings Over Illawarra air show.
Ahead of this year’s event in May, organisers decided to put me in one of the Southern Biplanes to find out exactly what it’s like.
My dad was a pilot and I remember as a child wanting to ride the Pirate Ship at the show. I couldn’t believe how dad just sat there calmly with a smile while my stomach moved from head to toes.
Afterwards I asked why he wasn’t squealing like I was and he simply told me it was the same feeling as flying. I now understand.
“It’s like the ultimate freedom in flying. If you can fly an aeroplane three dimensionally there’s nothing much that can worry you about flying. It’s a great thrill and a passion of mine,” Wollongong stunt pilot Chris Clark said.
I wasn’t feeling at all nervous until I actually sat in the plane, mainly a fear of whether I was going to throw up mid-flight as the carriage was open.
The craft was a fully restored Boeing Stearman, built as an aerobatic military trainer in 1943.
Off the runway we go, Chris steering the 74-year-old named Lilly Warra higher and higher.
It was one of the most stunning views of the Illawarra, thankfully no rain in sight.
Once above 1500 feet I heard Chris in my earpiece, he was about to begin some fun stuff. Crikey!
“Gentleman’s aerobatics” these classic maneuvers are called: wing over, barrel roll, loops.
They may look graceful from the ground but there is still the fear of falling out of the plane with your stomach bouncing everywhere.
Then we hit 3000 feet.
I say to myself “just breath, relax”, reminding myself it’s just like a flight simulator knowing exactly what was about to happen.
This was where some people have been known to pass out.
“We actually dropped the power back to idle and got the aeroplane to free fall and rotate at the same time,” Chris said.
“Sometimes it’s called a tailspin in the movies.”
Wow. Looking into the ocean spinning I somehow knew I was safe so “bring on some more”!
Chris pumps the engine and brought Lilly upright before showing me the real deal, a full aerobatic sequence just like you see at Wings Over Illawarra.
Southern Biplane Adventures will be one of the exhibitors at this years Wings Over Illawarra, May 6 to 7 at Illawarra Regional Airport in Albion Park Rail.