If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do since I was a young it was to be a pilot. I’ve dreamt of flying like a bird, and while hang gliding in Queenstown was as close as I could get, the exhilarating feeling of piloting a plane has been on my bucket list forever. So when we heard about U-fly Extreme in Motueka we planned to make it our first stop on our trip to the South Island over our labour day holiday.
I was already excited when leaving work Friday evening to catch the Interislander Ferry. On the sail across the Cook Strait I caught myself daydreaming about fulfilling my childhood dream of flying a plane and wondering what it would feel like?
What drew us to this operation was that not only was it a “U-fly”, but it was a freakin’ STUNT PLANE!!
YES!! You actually get to fly the stunt plane yourself!!!
After a quick lesson on the ground with a wooden replica of the super cool Pitts Special S2A, I threw on my flight suit, pulled down my goggles and jumped into the purpose-built aerobatic flight trainer! Designed for aerobatics, the plane’s engine, oil system and wings were all crafted to handle the twists, turns and upside down flying we were about to endure. With another quick lesson in the cockpit, I was strapped in with 3 seatbelts and was ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
It was an absolute pristine morning with the sun shining and barely a cloud in the sky. With Vincent, my trusted senior aerobatic flight instructor, sitting behind me, he maneuvered the plane across the field and into the air off the small runway. Within a few minutes we were soaring above the Abel Tasman National Park and he was already saying “OK Jenna take the controls!”
Without hesitation I grabbed the joystick and took control of the aircraft some 6,000ft in the air. Making a few light maneuvers left and right to get the feel for the plane, Vincent suddenly yelled “Ok Jenna – are you ready?…..HARD RIGHT!!” and with that I threw the controller to the right sending the plane into a right turn, spinning 360 degrees around. WOW!!!! What a rush!! Next it was “HARD LEFT!!” and I threw the plane into a spiraling left spin!
Seriously the most incredible feeling in the world! I was flying a STUNT PLANE!!! Over the next 15mins I completed several rolls, flips and figure 8’s, evening flying upside down for a while! The best was the inverted Cuban 8 though where you really feel the G forces hit your body! For a final rush, Vincent took control and drove the plane straight towards the ground before pulling the nose back up towards the sky – boy was my stomach feeling it by the end! The landing was pretty interesting too as he had to come in a little sideways in order to see properly and land the plane the safest way possible.
Back at the hanger I couldn’t wipe the massive grin off my face. I was still processing what I had just accomplished and still in disbelief of the incredible experience I just had. I couldn’t wait for Jordan to try it next!
With his flight suit and goggles on he hoped into the cockpit and was stoked to take the Pitts Special out for a spin himself! It was pretty fun to see the little plane take off from the ground and disappear into the sky above. Watching the plane twist and turn in the sky I knew he was also having the time of his life!
His favorite part was getting to fly upside down and the feeling of all his weight lift off his body and onto the seatbelts holding him in. I loved how Vincent always threw his hands in the air as PROOF we were actually the ones flying the plane – gotta love the dramatic effect!
Back on the ground we felt like real pilots, sporting our jump suits and flight goggles. I absolutely love the attitude Vincent has in that ANYONE can fly a stunt plane – it’s seriously that easy! Despite the aviation industry trying to protect the perception that only specialty trained acrobatic pilots with years of experience can do it, he spends his days teaching people they TOO can be a stunt plane pilot – fulfilling the dreams of people who visit from all over the world!
If you have EVER dreamed of flying a plane, seriously this is an absolute must if you’re visiting New Zealand. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that offers this kind of experience, and believe me it is so worth it for the amazing rush you get!! Be careful though – it is addictive!!
Check out Episode 42: Flying a Stunt Plane
Big thanks to Interislander for helping us sail to the other side and U-fly Extreme for an experience I won’t soon forget!