Ready for take-off
If flight’s your fancy, check out these gravity defying heart-stoppers, writes Barry Oliver
WHATEVER happened to Biggles, the British air ace who was the hero of close to 100 books? Never mind, it’s still possible to recreate, at least in part, the British air hero’s adventures with a flight in an old biplane (leather flying helmet and goggles supplied).
Or how about strapping in for a spin in a fighter jet? For the less brave, there are more straightforward (that is, the right way up) scenic flights. Or for something in the middle, take a turn at the controls. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer when it comes to taking to the air.
Queensland: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Billy Zane flew in the Red Baron for the 1996 film The Phantom . Now the Grumman Sea-Cat, claimed to be the world’s only two-passenger, opencockpit biplane on floats, is gracing the skies over Magnetic Island, where it offers a choice of tours, some throwing in a low-level pass over the beach. ‘‘ We don’t do full-on aerobatics but we generally finish the flight with a couple of wingovers before landing,’’ says Paul Mills, who runs the operation with wife Carol. www.redbaronseaplanes.com.au.
Take to the skies from Gold Coast airport with Black Jet’s fighter and test pilots. Choices include a 20-minute stomach-churning — spins, loops and rolls — aerobatics flight. If you’re not quite up to that, they’ll modify accordingly. For even more thrills, there’s formation aerobatics, but the 30-minute air combat flight is said to be the most popular and ‘‘ as realistic as it gets’’. Not for the faint-hearted: passengers face up to six times the force of gravity. www.blackjet.com.au.
Experience the thrill of a MiG jet — top speed more than 1000 km/h — at Rockhampton Aero Club. Its 25-minute full-monty package is for adrenalin junkies only: aerobatics, high speed and ‘‘ very, very high Gs’’.
Fortunately, also available is the 10-minute Cruiser, a flight that involves ‘‘ a couple of loops and rolls . . . without the aircraft being taken to its absolute maximum’’. www.migjet.com.au.
Tiger Moth Joy Flights on the Gold Coast offers two ways of viewing the scenery: upright or upside down from 133m. Seven out of 10 passengers chose the most extreme experience with barrel rolls and loop the loops thrown in. Flights in the vintage plane, circa 1931, range from 20 minutes to an hour. www.tigermothjoyrides.com.au.
Northern Territory: See some of Australia’s most spectacular and remote country in style on a day tour with Kakadu Helicopter Safaris. Five or 10-day wilderness adventures are also available, based at remote camps. www.kakaduhelisafaris.com.
Kakadu Air offers a range of flightseeing trips on fixed-wing, single-engine planes and helicopters. Thirty-minute flights visit the South Alligator River wetlands, while one-hour versions combine the wetlands with views of Jabiru and the Arnhem Land escarpment. www.kakaduair.com.au.
Take to the air with Alice Springs Helicopters, which operates scenic flights to the East and West MacDonnell
Ranges, stretching 600km across central Australia. From 10-minute flights to half-day tours with inflight commentary.
Heli-safaris also can be tailored to suit individual requirements. www.alicespringshelicopters.com.au.
Take a bird’s-eye view of some of the Red Centre’s most famous attractions — Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon— with Professional Helicopter Services. Flights run from 30 minutes to two hours. www.phs.com.au.
NSW: Strap on a flying helmet and goggles for a trip back to the 1940s in an open-cockpit Tiger Moth biplane. Departing from Camden in Sydney’s west, scenic flights take in views of the Blue Mountains, Lake Burragorang and Warragamba Dam. For brave souls, there’s an aerobatic flight that includes loops, barrel rolls, wingovers and stall turns. This, apparently, is the most popular choice. Passengers even get a chance to fly the plane.
Formation flights available. There’s also a trip viewing Sydney’s beaches from a fairly close range. www.airborne-aviation.com.au.
‘‘ Belt up and hold on,’’ are the instructions on a 20-minute flight along Sydney’s eastern suburb beaches that involves a series of aerial manoeuvres with Coastal Rush Helicopter Experience.
Just to intensify the drama, the doors are removed. Window seats guaranteed and camera supplied. www.sydneyhelitours.com.au.
Become a top gun pilot for a day with Jet Fighter, flying in a former military aircraft along the NSW north coast at speeds up to 800km/h. Feel the G-forces while the pilot goes through a range of combat manoeuvres. There’s a choice of four missions varying in content and flight time (from 20 minutes), including a dog fight between two jets. www.jetfighter.com.au.
Highland Warbirds offers a variety of packages, including an adrenalin-fuelled combat and aerobatics trip, flying former communist bloc military craft. The combat involves two planes, with pilots trying to obtain a simulated firing position (they’re competitive and hate to lose). The 30-minute flight ends with aerobatics over the southern highlands. www.highlandwarbirds.com.au.
There’s a similar experience on offer in the Hunter Valley in ex-Russian military trainers. Flights can involve pulling up to five Gs (five times the force of gravity). There are three missions to choose from, described as mild, wild and dog fights. www.huntervalleywarbirds.com.au.
Air Action, also in the Hunter, has a host of experiences, from scenic to a combat mission in a fighter bomber. Choices include a 15-minute sightseeing flight in a biplane to a more challenging 40-minute affair involving a series of tactical manoeuvres. Its Fighter Strike Mission covers barrel rolls, loops and, if you dare, a vertical roll before a low-level, high-speed run towards the ‘‘ enemy’’. www.airaction.com.au/flights.php.
For something slightly milder, help deliver mail to outback NSW with Wettenhall Air Services at Broken Hill. Be warned: barrel rolls are unlikely. www.wettenhallairservices.com.au.
South Australia: Heart-stopping flights in a Super Decathlon aerobatic plane — described as ‘‘ slick, fast and sassy’’ — are one option with Aldingabased Adelaide Bi-Planes. Pilots describe the plane as ‘‘ like a premium racing car for the sky that is just as happy flying upside down’’.
There are also more gentle joy flights along the scenic Adelaide south coast in an open-cockpit WACO biplane or a sunset trip in a Tiger Moth. This isn’t about speed — top performance is about 70 knots — it’s ‘‘ about snuggling in your open cockpit with the wind in your hair, the whistling of the wires and the buffeting of the slipstream in your face’’. www.adelaidebiplanes.com.au.
Explore the remote Anna Creek Painted Hills — there are no roads — in the far north of the state with Wright’s Air, which has a 60-minute flight departing William Creek (population six), halfway along the Oodnadatta Track (pick-ups from Coober Pedy and Olympic Dam available).
This outcrop of ochre-red and mustard-yellow hills is believed to be the result of 50 million years of climate change. A two-hour version includes Lake Eyre; there are also outback Aboriginal art tours. www.wrightsair.com.au.
Western Australia: Step back in time with a flight in the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia’s opencockpit de Havilland Tiger Moth. Choose from 30, 45 or 60-minute trips. The longer versions can include loops and barrel rolls. Trial and scenic flights also available, all departing from Jandakot airport, 30 minutes from Perth. www.racwa.asn.au.
‘‘ The flight of a lifetime’’ is the promise with Fighter Combat International’s 30-minute adventure from Jandakot in a CJ-6A Nanchang Chinese trainer. Expect loops, rolls, wingovers and stalls, with an aerial dogfight thrown in and a low-level run as a finale. www.fciwa.com.
Planes and helicopters are a great way to see remote areas such as the Kimberley. Kununurrabased Slingair & Heliwork WA has a range of trips. Its most popular flight, taking in the Bungle Bungles and Lake Argyle, is a two-hour trip that runs daily. www.slingair.com.au.
For a taste of aerial adventure with your feet still firmly on the ground, check out the Red Bull Air Race final over Perth’s Swan River on November 1-2. Jaw-dropping stunts are guaranteed as pilots negotiate a low-level course at up to 370km/h. www.westernaustralia.com/redbullairrace.
Tasmania: The Apple Isle also has its share of remote country, and Par Avion flies four and sixseater fixed-wing aircraft from Hobart into the unspoiled southwest wilderness area. A four-hour tour includes a boat trip to the marine reserve of Bathurst Harbour. www.paravion.com.au.
Tasair’s five-hour Wilderness and Wine tour out of Hobart visits Meadowbank Vineyard in the Derwent Valley. This incorporates a scenic flight and a short four-wheel-drive trip followed by lunch at the winery. There are other wilderness trips and flight-seeing closer to Hobart. www.tasair.com.au.
High not dry: The Red Baron biplane takes off near Magnetic Island