Red Bull Air Race: T3 takes to the skies

"If I shout 'BAIL BAIL,' I won't be joking. I will eject the canopy, you'll unplug your helmet, remove your safety belt, stand on your seat and jump to the left. The plane will turn left, so you must remember to jump with it so you don't hit the right wing as you exit."

These are the last instructions I receive from Sergio, the pilot who is about to throw me around the sky like a fish in a tumble dryer, the only difference being a tumble dryer is not as warm as the cockpit I’ve been crammed into.

Welcome to the Red Bull Air Races. I’m just outside New York, and I’m about to experience what it feels like to be an elite acrobatic pilot. Or at least to be in a plane with one.

During the eight Air Races around the world in the 2010 season, 12 sky jockeys pull up to 12G as they throw their tiny one-seater propeller planes across various stunning skylines.

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Now I was going to ride shotgun in a very similar plane – mine was a two-seater, as for health and safety reasons they have to be piloted by someone who knows how to fly a plane. I’d passed all the flight eligibility tests, being officially under six foot two, over 18, under 220lbs and – reassuring to know – in possession of a waist size of less than 47 inches. Even my blood pressure was within safe limits, despite the fact I’d eaten a full cow with lots of wine the evening before and was currently feeling the effects of what I can only describe as pre-traumatic stress disorder.

So we’re ready for off. Tally-ho. Sat in front of the pilot, facing a spinning propeller, I’m shown the button that operates the on-board camera. Since this is worryingly near the controls that control the hood ejection mentioned earlier I decide not to touch either. There’s also a sick bag tucked into a side pocket. Thoughtful.

“Are you ready, Rob?” Sergio asks. “Yep,” I lie, and we’re off. Into the sky, in what I’m convinced is a flying coffin. Unfortunately I can’t really recall what happens next… I think we were in the sky for about ten minutes. It could have been anything from one second to a year for all I can recall.

I experienced G-Force, I know that much. Feeling all the blood drain to my feet, I tensed my body and hyperventilated as instructed to keep myself from “greying out”, a feeling not unlike slowly falling asleep. I probably didn’t need to do this, as although I felt like I was being pushed through a keyhole, I think I was only pulling about 4G.

However, it was still enough to make me feel like someone was trying to give birth to me as I was simultaneously giving birth myself.

Stepping back onto tarmac, my legs seemed to have been replaced by two piles of jelly and I muttered something to Sergio that didn’t really make any sense. At the time you would have got more sense and poise from a drunk giraffe in mid-orgasm who’d just been asked his opinion on metaphysics.

Soon though, the shakes passed, and I felt high for the rest of the day. Would I do it again? Probably not, to be honest. For me it really should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but next time the Red Bull Air Races comes to a city near you, I strongly advise you to watch.

Link:Red Bull Air Race

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