Once in a lifetime

That Time I Went Wingwalking: G-Force and Landscapes

One for the adrenaline junkies

Image for post
Photo by Daniel Eledut on Unsplash — this is the actual plane I flew on

I’ve been strapped into a full body harness on top of a Stearman bi-plane and the pilot has just started the 450hp engine. The propeller is spinning so fast down in front of me that I can’t see the blades anymore.

I cannot believe this is happening.

I’m here for a job interview — a wingwalking job. There is nothing about it I do not love the idea of. But I had no idea I would have the chance to actually go wingwalking in the interview.

The plane starts to move, trundling along the grassy field at ever increasing speeds. There is nothing in front of me but the propeller just below and the vulnerability is breathtaking.

As the plane lifts off the ground I pull air into my lungs and I feel my spine pushed back into the column I’m stood up against. And suddenly there I am, stood on top of a bi-plane wing, high above the Cotswold landscape.

I start laughing. There’s not much else you can do when you find yourself in this situation. I lift my arms out to the sides and struggle against the immensity of the air resistance. They say you have to be strong to be a wingwalker — I can see why.

The rolling green landscape peels out before me. The engine roars beneath and I spot a bemused dog walker in the lane below. I give them a wave.

As promised, the pilot rocks the plane from side to side. He’s asking me if I want to experience a loop. I stick both thumbs up and we begin to climb higher.

The plane reaches its required altitude and before I know it, I’m plunging face first at the ground. The grass is rushing, impossibly fast towards me and I can’t see any part of the plane at all. The only thing I know is that I’m strapped to a machine that it plummeting to earth.

I force myself to breathe and to trust this pilot more than I’ve ever trusted anyone in my life. Part of me cannot believe that anything can pull out of this dive.

These planes are cleared to an insanely low altitudes, just tens of metres. It feels like I could just hop off, so close we get to the ground.

He pulls the plane up at the last minute and breathing no longer seems like an option. The g-force is unbelievable. As we plough back up into the sky it feels as though there’s an elephant stood on my chest. But there’s nothing scary about this, because when you’ve been plummeting to the ground at 150mph, nothing much can freak you out.

At the top of the loop the plane levels off and I can breathe again. We fly around for a few more minutes before coming into land on the bumpy grass.

‘How was it?’ asks Sarah, the (former) chief wingwalker.

‘I love it!’ I yell, perhaps a little deaf from the wind.

I stumble off with Sarah’s help and I’m delirious. I could do this every single day for the rest of my life. If I could do this for a job, I would be beside myself.

Due to a personal reason that I’ve never stopped regretting, I pulled myself out of the running for the job. For several years afterwards I would lie in bed and wonder whether I would’ve got it. It tormented me.

I went on to do other adventures that I wouldn’t change for the world, like sailing across the Atlantic.

But still, sometimes I lie in bed and wonder what life would’ve been like had I got a job as a wingwalker.

Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk

Travel and Outdoor Writer | Journalist | Author of In Bed with the Atlantic (Fernhurst, 2018) | New book pub’d by Quarto coming 2021 | kitiarapascoe.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store