September 21 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
‘Jo, can you take your feet off my pedals please,’ says a loud voice through my headset. JO MALONE is upside down 1,000 feet over Norfolk in the front seat of a Wildcat Aerobatics Pitts Special, and she’s not helping! Pictures by DENISE BRADLEY from the aircraft next door...
I’m wishing I’d tightened my seat belt a bit more as I’m not exactly upside down in my seat, more upside down hanging an anxious couple of centimetres from my seat.
What’s more, can I move my feet? I’m the wrong way up, the sky is the ground, the ground is the sky and we seem to be going really rather quickly.
What’s more there’s another Wildcat a few feet away from one window, the Great Yarmouth coastline is sparkling out of another, I can’t think where my feet are, let alone move them.
Suddenly we’re the right way up again and, oh yes, those footrests aren’t footrests, they move and I think I had my feet jammed hard against them.
Feet definitely out of the way, and discovering that my seat belt is as tight as I can bear and that suspended feeling is supposed to happen, I can relax a bit.
Relax is possibly the wrong word. I’m riding whatever the aviation equivalent of motorbike pillion or car passenger shotgun might be in front of pilot Al Coutts; sitting doing nothing apart from squeak and shriek as the team puts the final polishing touches to its routine for this weekend’s Old Buckenham Airshow.
The two Pitts, plus fellow aerobatic pilot David Jenkins in his Edge, are at the grass roots centre of the show. The Old Buck homeboys fly all over Britain – and further afield – performing at airshows, but the Old Buckenham Airshow is naturally a favourite.
“We know we’re competing with the ice cream van for people’s attention, we do know that,” says pilot Willie Cruickshank later, but judging from the spinning and rolling and zipping about we’re doing, the ice cream van is no competition.
When they add the smoke and we’re writing loops and hearts in the sky, I know we’re looking pretty cool!
In the calm evening sunshine the smoke hangs for ages, long enough for us to swoop up and over again, and through the middle of our self-made smoke frame.
The scenery to the coast is fantastic – we even get the chance to wave at my super impressed mum in her garden on the way.
But I can’t stop looking at Willie, with photographer Denise Bradley in the front seat, in their Pitts. When the pilots said they flew wingtip to wingtip I thought that was just an expression. But these little planes, with just a 20ft wingspan, are jigsaw piece close. If we were cars I’d be yelling at the other one to go away.
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a fair amount of aviation and I can’t recall a time I was ever that close to another wing, powered or unpowered.
That close proximity flying was definitely a strong contender for my favourite airborne Wildcat manoeuvre trophy. But there were several contenders. Apparently we did cubans, rolls of the tops, slow rolls, ballistic rolls, half Cubans, and split S, aerobatic manoeuvres. They were all, to me in the front seat, a variation on blue green blue green visuals with some blue blue blue blue green blue views, and ridiculously fun in a ‘ooh I can’t move my head for the g-force’ way.
Watch them in action at the Old Buckenham Airshow this weekend, and look out for an even bigger display next year when Wildcat Aerobatics will have four Pitts Specials.
Old Buckenham Airshow, Old Buckenham Airfield, Abbey Road, Old Buckenham near Attleborough, runs on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets on the gate from 10am, £10. www.oldbuckenhamairshow.co.uk. Supported by the EDP, other displays include Spitfire, Mustang, Staggerwing, military and classic vehicles, the RV8tors, Navion, Brendan O’Brien’s Flying Circus, Jet Provost, Yak 52, fairground rides and food village.