G'day!

G'day

G'day! and welcome to my blog's new home. I'd like to say a big 'cheers mate' to Clay for building me such a fabulous new house.

Here you will find my articles and blogs from the sky documenting my aerial adventure across Australia, and sometimes - when I'm very lucky - around the world!

Lots of airyplanes, plenty of new shoes and hopefully many undiscovered places.


Blue skies,
Kree

Monday, March 11, 2013

Walking in the Air

At first, I thought it was a joke.

I was sitting in Breitling’s marketing agency, discussing a potential interview with the Breitling Wingwalking team, when managing director Jo Butler said, “Would you try it?”

“Hell, yeah” was my impetuous response, followed by the thought, “they’d never let a slightly chubby middle aged editor walk on a wing!”

Turns out I was wrong.

A week later, I received an email from Jo, confirming the interview and my wing walk.

Although I knew, in my heart of hearts, I would go through with it – ‘never let fear stand in the way of a good story’ is as good a motto as any – in the weeks leading up to the walk, I would be seized by moments of sheer panic. I’m petrified of heights, and, like a lot of pilots, prefer to be in control of the aircraft, rather than strapped on top of it.

My aviation friends reactions were divided between those who would do it in a heartbeat (namely those same friends who regularly jump out of moving aircraft) and those who believe a pilot should always remain firmly inside the aircraft (the instructors and airlines pilots, mostly). Both of my non-aviation friends declared me crazy.

As the day approached, I was sent images by text of the young and svelte Lara Bingle, wingwalking over Sydney, with the message,

“soon to be YOU.” Suddenly, my worries were compounded by the thought that I, too, would be made to wear lycra.

On the morning of the flight, I was sick with nerves. I was reminded of my first ever solo, and my last ever CPL exam, and the time I had to wait hours for the NRMA in a scary suburb of Sydney, all rolled into one.

At the AOPA office, I was greeted by the ever-calm Kylie – the shoot’s photographer – and told, “it’ll be just like going on a fairground ride. In ten minutes, it will be over, and you’ll be forever grateful and proud that you did it.”



photos by Kylie Lovell
After interviewing the pilot, David (who promised to be gentle) and the chief wingwalker, Sarah, I was helped into my sky shroud (no lycra for me!) and taken out to the aircraft. Suddenly, my inner aviatrix leapt out; I found myself in complete and absolute awe, feasting my eyes upon a perfectly maintained Boeing Stearman. Instantly, I realised it would be an almighty privilege to stand upon the wing of this splendid, iconic aircraft. I saw at once I was a very lucky journalist, about to do something I would relish for the rest of my life.

Sadly, the dreamy thoughts were crushed by the indignity suffered by having to actually climb onto the wing. I have long documented my under endowment in the coordination department; this time it was compounded, to the power of ten, by having nimble Stearman sprite Freya virtually fly up the fuselage in front of me. I followed her with all the grace of a potato.

As Freya guided me to the rig - and commenced the strapping in, the safety harness briefing, the placement of earplugs and goggles - I was overcome with a feeling of contentment. All of a sudden, it felt so right to be here, standing on the wing of a Boeing Stearman at my home aerodrome, being cheered on by a crowd of well wishers. I felt invincible, brave and very, very tall.


As Kylie gave me the thumbs up, David started the engine, and we began the fabulously graceful taxi. The sock was completely flaccid and I was in my absolute element, waving to all and sundry. I felt rather like I was wearing the Stearman! We arrived at the run-up bay, and I heard the engine run up, and then we waited and waited. Just as I started to fret there was something amiss, and we would be forced to return to the hangar, we taxied to the holding point. Within seconds we were lining up, then rolling (with me in full-Titanic-arms-splayed position) then taking off into a wind so strong I can only describe it as a force.



It was hard, and cold and frightfully noisy, pinning me to the rig, trying to rip off my goggles and attempting to suck the saliva out of my mouth (“time to close my mouth,” I remember thinking). As we turned crosswind at 500ft, I saw the city in front of me, and forgot about the force entirely. Sarah was right in saying the force pins you down so firmly, it gives a feeling of security. I found my equilibrium and my whole body was soaring with the feeling of flight; I was as close to genuine flight as I had ever been. I felt as happy as I could ever remember being, with Condell Park below me, and the city now off to my right; a feeling of absolute freedom overwhelmed me, and I had to remind myself that I was strapped to a rig on top of a biplane, and about to come in to land.


The turn onto base was steeper than the crosswind turn, but I found myself thinking, “bank more sharply! Barrel roll! Let’s do aerobatics!” for which, of course, I can blame that ole chestnut, adrenaline.

Slowly, we were descending, and as the runway became closer and closer, I braced myself for the bump. The bump never came; I didn’t feel the wheels touch the strip, there was merely a cessation of forces, an absence of howling and no more wobbling of cheeks. My only thought, as we rolled out to exit the runway, was ‘again! Go around! Do it again!”



I have no memory of the taxi back to the hangar; being so high on adrenaline and full of excitement seems to have erased the memory of dismounting of wing, too.



Later, on the ground, I remember someone mentioning that more people have been up in space than have walked on a wing. The journalist inside me said, “you’d better check that fact” but the aerial adventurist overrode the fact-checker for once, and revelled in having done something so very special.

All day, I was filled with a feeling of awe and wonder; a sheer delight at what had taken place. In fact, even now, writing this, I am stunned that I did something so brave and incredible. And, I get to call it ‘work’.

3 comments:

  1. Well done K. That's one to never forget!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry to hear about your loss of sanity. :P

    No way I'd be out there in the breeze. But then I'm a big chicken.

    ReplyDelete