Do Rolls & Hammerheads in a Biplane
Fullerton, California, U.S.A.
Picture yourself flying a biplane out over the Pacific Ocean, diving downward for speed, then heading nose up in a steep vertical ascent until the plane almost stops in mid-air. Next, you make a tight U-turn rolling to the left and plunge straight down toward the ocean. Congratulations! You’ve just performed a hammerhead aerobatic maneuver and made a flashy 180-degree turn. You’ve probably seen tricks like these performed at an airshow, and now you can try them out for yourself at SkyThrills!, a southern California biplane flight school that’s been treating clients to thrilling sky adventures since 2000.
Don’t worry. You won’t be alone in the dual-control biplane as you perform these aerobatic maneuvers. SkyThrills! owner Mike Blackstone is at the other set of controls, coaching you through your aerobatic tricks. During the time you’re in the air, you have hands-on lessons on rolling the plane, doing loops and hammerhead spins, and even flying inverted. First, you learn a roll—turning the plane 360 degrees like a corkscrew—then continue on your way. Next comes the vertical loop, where the smoke streams behind (so you can see exactly where you’ve just flown). If you’re game for more, the hammerhead comes next, and then a spin. Your final maneuver is inverting the plane and flying upside down for about 30 seconds. If your heart hasn’t skipped a beat yet, it will now! As for take-offs and landings, leave them to the expert. Blackstone will handle those.
SkyThrills! Aerobatic Maneuvers
SkyThrills! has two types of biplanes. Both are designed to perform the aerobatic maneuvers but the two have different personalities. The bright yellow Classic Biplane is really a 1996 replica of a 1935 Waco YMF-5 model, with room for two passengers in the front cockpit. It has a spruce frame covered with fabric, and purrs like a big kitten. The Pitts-S-2C, which Blackstone calls the Extreme Biplane, performs like a Formula I racing car with wings. Whichever plane you choose, you’re sure to have a ball.
For the ultimate thrill, ask about the Astronaut Adventure, which includes hands-on high-speed dives followed by a 5-g pull-up toward vertical then a push across the top of an arc, which exposes you to weightlessness or zero gravity. You can hold a ball and watch it float out of your hands as you start arcing back down toward earth.
Every flight includes a briefing beforehand, when you learn about handling the plane. All flights are hands on and last between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the program flown. Flights are followed by a debriefing, when you look at the video taken during the ride and see your reactions as you were doing loops and flying upside down.
These flights are an amazing introduction to the world of aerobatic stunt flying. You experience the sensation of flying a stunt plane in excess of 200 mph (322kmph) and feel the g-forces pushing you into the seat. Back on the ground, you leave with a DVD of your experience. The adrenaline rush is intense, and you definitely feel empowered as you fly the plane.
SkyThrills! planes fly out of Fullerton Municipal Airport in southern California. Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, Universal Studios, and lots of other attractions are close by should you want to continue your thrill-seeking in the area.
SkyThrills! (tel 866-4-SKYTHRILL; www.skythrills.com).
When to Go: Anytime.
Los Angeles International (34 miles/55km) or John Wayne Airport, Orange County (20 miles/32km).
$$ Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel, 7675 Crescent Ave., Buena Park, CA. (tel 866/752-2444 or 714/995-1111; www.knottshotel.com). $$ Anaheim Plaza Hotel & Suites, 1700 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, CA (tel 800/631-4144 or 714/772-5900; www.anaheimplazahotel.com).