FHM's 100 Great Adventures 2009

Posted by , 01 July 2009

Air–race your mates

And so began the most exhilarating three minutes you can experience in Britain. Specifically at the controls of an Extra 300L: a £200k, 9-litre, 300bhp stunt plane. A 250mph Lamborghini with wings. As a fan of Red Bull air racing, I’d watched the sport’s popularity, er, sky-rocket. But now, for a little under £400, at an airfield in Gloucestershire, I was about to do it, too.

The challenge, as ex-RAF man Mark ‘Greeners’ Greenfield briefed us that morning, is an 8-mile course where you perform a series of moves and stunts such as “quadro gate” and “half-Cuban”. The race is against four other Maverick-wannabes to be king of the skies. But the thrill? Just how quickly you actually fly the thing yourself. You’re briefed, get a quick run-through on opening your parachute, followed by a morning lesson and full practice run, then – after lunch – you’re racing it yourself. For real.

Of course, Greeners sits behind me – he takes care of the take-off and makes sure that when I do take control, any of my death-defying moves don’t end in actual death. Circling at 2,000ft, clearance comes from the tower and we’re in full flyboy mode. A push on the stick sends the plane into a dive as we rush towards the start gate 1,300ft below us at 200mph+. The next few minutes are a blur of tight turns with four times the force of gravity pushing my body hard into the seat, my eyes desperately looking out of the top of the canopy to spot the next gate, all while trying to remain as smooth as possible in the air to maintain speed and not lose time. The half-Cuban is a combination of sky, earth, weightlessness and panic, and before I know it I’m on the home straight egging the propeller towards the finish line.

“Woo hoo! Good time, FHM! Good time!” shouts Greeners, as he takes back the controls and does a few celebratory stall turns. And all of my Top Gun fantasies (apart from ‘the volleyball one’) have come true. After a few penalties for clipping a gate, my time of 3min 28secs isn’t the fastest, but I finish third, just behind two licensed pilots. “I’m not blowing smoke up your arse here,” Greeners tells us, “but for a novice I’d give you 8.5 out of ten.” Not bad going, really – and as we ‘Foxtrot Oscar’ home, there’s a grin the size of a 747 on our face.

Do it: Visit ultimatehigh.co.uk for more

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