SUNSPORT’s Sunni Upal experienced the thrill of flying in an air racing plane.
Some of the most skilled pilots in the world will compete at the Air Race 1 World Cup in Thailand in November.
Here’s what happened when we joined them for the day.
When it comes to flying, the height of my bravery is probably undoing my seatbelt before we’ve reached the stand.
So when the opportunity to go flying in a Formula One air racing plane came up, my heart rate increased just at the thought (really, my Fitbit told me so).
It was a nervous drive up the M11 to Little Grandson Airfield a short distance from Cambridge, and my anxiety grew even more once I arrived.
“These little airplanes are quite twitchy,” said Trevor Jarvis, a commercial and former RAF pilot who will race in Thailand next month.
“You’ll feel every bump and the turbulence, you’re jolted around in such a lightweight plane.”
Jarvis, a 58-year-old veteran in the cockpit, prepared to fly his aircraft by strolling around the place like it was just another day in the office.
How do these pilots bring themselves to race aircrafts? Are they not afraid for their lives?
Yves Clarke, who will fly in his first Air Race World Cup this year, began air racing only after he had a crash.
Clarke cracked his back, broke multiple ribs and suffered a collapsed lung after a crash in a paragliding competition in France 20 years ago.
He explained: “Paragliding is not really proper flying. I didn’t have any money but I had to fly and that was the only way I could do it.
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“It’s great fun but incredibly dangerous. I went home and thought ‘I need an engine and some proper wings’.
“Anyone who doesn’t know much about air racing would look at it and think it’s completely insane. I thought it was bonkers when I first saw it.
“What looks really dangerous is not actually that dangerous. It’s quite hazardous and unforgiving if you start mucking around or don’t pay attention.
“Generally speaking, the racing is very exhilarating and very good fun.”
My ‘fun’ was almost ruined when I was told I was too heavy to fly in the plane.
Great. I was happy to head back down the motorway with a few interviews in the bag and some sandwiches in my stomach.
But the very kind, accommodating organisers had a bigger plane ready for me to get my turn in the air.
Even this ‘bigger’ plane was a tight squeeze for my 6ft 3ins, 300lbs frame, but before I knew it I was crammed into the cockpit and on the runway.
Once the plane took off and we were airborne, all the anxiety and nerves were replaced with adrenaline and excitement.
I was filled with so much adrenaline from just a few laps in the air that I drove back down the motorway almost twitching.
My pilot Mark was so calm and calculated as he banked sharp to the left around one of the pylon markers that signalled a corner.
He even had time to check if I was ok as the plane was tilted almost 90 degrees to the left.
It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, but these pilots do this on a regular basis.
In Thailand they’ll battle for real at the Air Race 1 World Cup from November 17-19.
I put a quick call in to my family on the way home to let them know I was still alive.
Des Hart, who will also compete in Thailand, said: “My wife is pretty tolerant of it. She’s of the opinion that there’s no point trying to stop me because I’m going to do it. She’s fantastically supportive and puts up with a lot.
“People ask ‘is it scary?’ When you’re out on the course, you don’t really think of danger, you don’t really have time to.
“The only time I get pretty nervous is on the grid, the last minute before the flag goes up. That’s when your heart is really racing. But when the flag goes up, you’ve got a job to do so you don’t have time to think about it.”