I’m standing atop a 75-year-old biplane, upper torso strapped firing-squad style to a vertical pole. The aircraft convulses violently beneath my feet, then begins to bounce along the runway. Now, there’s no turning back.
Wing walking is the grandaddy of aerial extreme sports, with a history stretching back to 1918, when an American stunt pilot pioneered the act. Picture something between an anti-gravity roller coaster and a supersonic rodeo ride. My host, AeroSuperBatics – the world’s only wing-walking formation team – is now offering members of the public a chance to experience this thrill in England’s rural Gloucestershire.
As we growl into the sky with Martyn Carrington, the team’s chief pilot at the controls of the Boeing Stearman, I resist the impulse to squeeze my eyelids shut. Looking down after several seconds, I’m hit by a wave of euphoria. The patchwork quilt of countryside beneath us is shrinking, cattle the size of crumbs. Carrington twists and banks up to 1,000ft while I survey all before me, the fixed grin on my face partially due to the ferocious wind.
Then, Carrington communicates with me through a wiggle of the plane’s wings, and I know it’s time for the pièce de résistance – the loop-the-loop. I hold my thumbs aloft in reply, and he sends us into an almost immediate dive, building enough momentum to push us up and over the loop. The wind bites viciously as the ground races up at 241km/h, then he throws us back through 180 degrees and into a steep climb.
For a few seconds, the G-force makes me feel as if someone is trying to rip the skin up over my skull, then the pressure vanishes. We’re at the top of the loop. I watch as the world tips upside down; the horizon spins from blue to green, then back to blue again. Being inside a loop like this is a mesmerising, almost supernatural sensation. After we land, I’m still buzzing. My feet are on the ground, but my head is still somewhere up in the clouds. As far as I’m concerned, wing walking is the ultimate high.
– TEXT BY JONATHAN THOMPSON
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.