Robin Searle makes like Tom Cruise and pilots a plane over the Nevada desert
Is your harness on tight enough?” asks Chris, his voice crackling through my earphones.
“I think so,” I reply innocently, giving it a little wiggle for good measure.
“Well let’s have a quick check,” he says, and promptly flips our aircraft upside down.
Chris does this for a living, so flying 7,000ft above the Nevada desert with the skyscraping hotels of the Las Vegas strip hanging down like stalagtites in the distance is all in a day’s work.
If I’m honest, I was slightly less relaxed about the whole thing.
Sky Combat Ace, based at an airfield 20 minutes south of the Strip, specialises in giving customers the type of experiences they’ve dreamed of since the first time they watched Top Gun.
The planes themselves aren’t quite as quick as the ones Tom Cruise was buzzing the control tower in, but my word do they handle well.
For the planespotters out there, they are two-seat Extra 330LCs. For the rest of us, they’re the ones you see doing loop-the-loops in Red Bull Air Races.
In itself, the opportunity to fly in one of these things with an expert pilot is a privilege. But then they utter the words you never thought you would hear: “Now it’s your turn. You have the aircraft, you have the aircraft.”
And there you are, a 25-minute briefing in the hangar under your belt, flying an aircraft at more than 200mph and preparing to carry out your first barrel roll.
As a journalist, being lost for words isn’t a good thing. But as Chris talked me through a succession of manoeuvres during our 45-minute flight I found myself repeating the same one again and again. “Beautiful”.
My personal favourite was the tailslide, which involved a quarter loop upwards to take the aircraft into a vertical climb until it simply lost momentum, falling tail-first initially before flipping 180 degrees to leave you flying straight towards the desert floor.
Less enjoyable was the hammerhead, an aeronautical cartwheel which left me pondering whether to reach for the paper bag tucked behind the dial telling me I’d just experienced over 4G.
There’s no pretending this is an experience for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. But for those after a good dose of adrenaline, there can’t be much to beat it.
Just don’t overdo it at the casino bar the night before.
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