Task: Wing Walk

I’m standing on top of a pair of gleaming, orange and white striped linen, biplane wings, being strapped into a safety harness, and I’m rather wishing I wasn’t.    
I’m scared and I feel far too vertical when everything else on the plane is horizontal, like a bicycle stowed upright on a car roof rack.  The safety straps go over the shoulder, round the waist and between the legs.  They’re attached to an orange gaffer taped rig, which I lean on, as I would on the back of a chair.  It feels almost casual, which would be fine if we weren’t planning on taking off in a few minutes. 
 
I’m at Rendcomb private aerodrome just outside Cirencester, to wingwalk.  I’d never even heard of wingwalking before, and am hugely relieved to discover I won’t actually be walking on the wing.  I’m with the Aerosuperbatics team; five wingwalkers, six pilots and four Boeing Stearman biplanes.  Planes such as this were used by America in the First World War; afterwards, the planes were used for increasingly daring stunts in airshows.  Now, the Aerosuperbatics team display in about a hundred air shows a year all over the world.    

After final instructions (the pilot will dip to the side to ask if I want to continue, I will give both thumbs down to stop, thumbs up to continue) the pilot, Martyn, taxis across the private bumpy airfield, gathering pace until we ascend.  Higher and higher we climb until we’re at 1500 feet, above the clouds.  It’s chilly.  You would think it would be peaceful but it’s loud; the thrum of the engine and the roar of the wind.  It’s fast; I can feel every single one of the 100 miles an hour.  I’m breathless and I wonder if I’ve forgotten to breathe.  I’m literally winded; thanks to the 3G force, the air has been sucked out of me.  My eyes are streaming behind my goggles, my hair is whipping my face like tiny sharp stones, and my cheeks are rippling like sails in the wind.  I feel that I might fall if I don’t grip the rig.  It’s thrilling and I realise I’m laughing with excitement. 

Martyn dips swiftly to ask me if I want to continue.  Thumbs w-a-a-y up.  And then we loop the loop.  We descend gently to below the clouds, then gather speed to 150mph as we hurtle terrifyingly straight towards the earth before somersaulting gracefully backwards.  I see the earth – all higgledy-piggledy green fields bound by hedges – above me.  We roll, we fly low, we circle, we swoop, we soar for 15 electrifying minutes. 

As we land and bump slowly to halt, Danielle, a full time wingwalker and wearing the team uniform of black lyrca, unstraps me and I clamber, shaking, off the wings. I feel ecstatic and exhausted.  Even my teeth hurt from gritting them and my hair is one giant dreadlock.  It is an intense sensation, and it feels liberating, refreshing, uplifting and unique not to think, not even to emotionally feel, just to simply physically feel what you’re doing. 

I feel I’ve blown the emotional cobwebs away, and then some.  I chat to Martyn, who wanted to be a pilot since he first glimpsed aeroplanes flying over his attic bedroom window when he was seven.  Working at his local airfield, he got his pilot’s license at 17, (and his driving license when he was 23) and has flown ever since.  Danielle wanted to wingwalk since her parents took her to an air show, aged 6, and she was enthralled by the dare devil wingwalkers in action.  Clearly, a lot of childhood dreams are being lived out at this airfield. 

It’s easily the most unusual task I’ve tried.  I don’t feel brave, but I am starting to think that I might be a daredevil.  What this task has shown me is that physical and emotional well-being are distinctly linked.  It’s also shown me, as have my other tasks, is that life is much more fun when you join in.  A simple truth, that we all know in theory but one which I sometimes find hard to put into practise as I’m often too busy planning my televison evening viewing schedule.

Oh, and AeroSuperBatics are currently seeking one more wingwalker to join the team; applicants need no experience, but should have no fear of heights, or head to toe skintight shiny black Lycra.  Which rules me out. 

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