Ready for take-off

If flight’s your fancy, check out th­ese grav­ity de­fy­ing heart-stop­pers, writes Barry Oliver

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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

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