The Day of the Machines

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Heart pounding and threatening to escape its pericardium; skin turned paper thin, turning the slightly chilly breeze into a subzero tempest; gasps segue into excited squeals; my adrenaline rush on this beautiful day at Wonderboom National Airport, Pretoria was nothing to write home about – trust me, my mother could have a heart attack if she had the slightest idea.

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Wonderboom is a lush green suburb snuggled between mountains in the northern part of Pretoria. It is home to The “Wonderboom” (translated from Afrikaans into English as “Miracle tree” or “Tree of Wonder”) – an unusually gigantic 1000 year old fig tree. Its national airport was venue of the Airlink Adrenaline Show.

Walking through the gates, I felt like a child let loose in a candy store. Surrounded by airplanes, helicopters, super cars, trucks and motorbikes, it was truly the day of the machines, with a side of  good food and booze thrown in for good measure – a blissful dose of heaven.

Transformer Airlink Adrenaline Show

Robot dance. . . I’ve got skills

 

Head tilted backwards, I watched in awe as Captain Amy Shaw performed an inverted para-drop, a feat never before done by a female para-jumper. Her stunt was performed in a Pitts S-2B Special, a light aerobatic biplane. As the biplane flew inverted Shaw dived out and deployed her parachute within seconds, landing graciously on the open field. Other breath-taking performances included: South African Airforce Silver Falcons display, SUPER GT cars drifting with a helicopter, wheelies and endos by stunt bikes, Impala Jet formation… an adventure junkie paradise.

An opportunity to experience a bird’s eye view of Wonderboom courtesy the blue Robinson R44, was an irresistible treat and definitely my highlight of the day. As we hovered over the town, watching two Embraer Jets fly side by side and then diverge as they headed in our direction was such a spectacular thrill.

Robinson R44

Preflight smiles with the Robinson R44

 

WATCH SHOW HIGHLIGHTS: Stunts and all

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Just like most pilots you’ll ever meet, the ability to defy gravity is a priceless gift I cherish. As the front wheels of my aircraft slowly abandon the ground I taste freedom, and filled with unbridled euphoria, my heart soars. Nagging thoughts are soon left behind and forgotten, nothing else really matters. This is why I fly – to soar.

I am a self-diagnosed adrenaline junkie. Spin entry and recovery lesson during my Private Pilot License (PPL) training remains a day that’s forever etched in my heart. The evening before, my instructor warned, “K, rest well tonight and drink loads of water tomorrow.” Boy, was I pumped! Finally, my eyes were going to roll back in my head, and her warning was nothing but music to my ears.

A spin is an unusual aircraft attitude where rotation occurs about the vertical axis – nose down, resulting in the aircraft following a steep, “corkscrew” like, downward path. Entering into the spin, the rotations happened quickly. I lost orientation and the ground was coming for us fast! Recovery is the fun part, and as my instructor began the recovery manoeuvre,  I experienced 4Gs (4 times the force of gravity, not the mobile network mode). My head became thrice its size and rapidly exceeded my neck’s design envelope. The world around me lost colour as my vision greyed out. My stomach slammed against my spine and my legs became anchored to the floor of the plane. Then the feelings passed and, though slightly nauseous, I was chomping at the bit to have my own go at it. Supervised, of course.

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I’m working my way up to jets, but I’m a civilian pilot. The real adrenaline kings are the fighter jet jockeys with their incredible machines. I wonder what spin recovery would feel like in a Eurofighter Typhoon, an aircraft deliberately designed to be aerodynamically unstable. Now that would be a truly epic experience.

Cockpit selfie - Robinson R44

Cockpit selfies on the Robinson R44

“What if you die?” A question I usually endure when my love for the thrill is expressed. My response is always the same: Then I die. It can be frightening sometimes, but I refuse give in to that fear. And every day, I live my version of a full life, out on the edge, where all the greatness is.

Do not let the fear of dying prevent you from living.

 

What activities make you feel alive? Do share below on the comments, you never know who you’d inspire.

 

Featured image from Flickr, by Aviation Adventure South Africa

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