WSJ: you can take the controls of a stunt plane, no experience necessary.

Wow!  wouldn’t this be FUN??? 🙂

WSJ:  As we fly southeast over the desert, I take the controls. I’m strapped into the cockpit of an Extra 330LC, a two-passenger propeller plane built for performing aerobatic tricks. I glance at the placard on the flight deck that reads “Use of headset is required. Use of parachute is recommended.” My instructor, Steve “Hollywood” Helinski, tells me to pull back on the stick until we’ve climbed to 8,000 feet.

It hardly seems to matter that I’m unlicensed—or that my training entailed no more than a 30-minute briefing and an optional session in a flight simulator, in which I practiced crashing into the Bellagio upside-down. Before getting into the plane owned by Sky Combat Ace of Henderson, Nev., I’d signed a waiver covering every kind of hazard (lightning, rapidly changing weather, other airplanes, the ground) and physical or emotional injury, including death. 

I’d also been assured that we’d fly at more than twice the mandated minimum altitude for aerobatic maneuvers, so if I happened to spiral out of control, my instructor would have time and space to save our butts.

After all, the point wasn’t simply getting into the air, but performing the sorts of moves normally reserved for air shows and dogfights. SCA’s trio of 23-foot Extras can reach speeds of 253 miles an hour, and are FAA-approved to withstand plus- or minus-10 Gs. 

Once we’re cruising high above the valley floor, Mr. Helinski takes back the controls and runs through a “G warm-up.” This consists of a 3-G right turn, followed by a 4-G left to see how I—and what I might distantly call “my body”—respond. There are video cameras in the cockpit, and when I later watch the feed I see a grimace bloom across my face, as my upper lip curls back into my teeth as far as it will go. This is not a handsome expression.

We move on to actual tricks, starting with a loop. Mr. Helinski, a former commercial pilot, demonstrates while I do my best to maintain my composure. As we climb, he recommends that I look out at the wing, so I can gauge where we are in relation to the horizon. But I can’t resist the forward view. The Earth falls away and then ends up above my head. It’s thrilling to spin, but also a relief once everything looks again as it should.


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