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Today I took to the Skies

Story and pictures by Yusuf Hashim

 

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship will be back in the skies in February 2014, with a full seven-race World Championship to be staged in 6 countries on 3 continents. This was announced at a special world-wide press conference in Putrajaya this morning. The airspace over Putrajaya Lake will be the venue for the Malaysian Leg of the Red Bull Air Races for the next Three Years. Its a coup of sorts for Malaysia to be selected as one of the seven venues for this prestigious international sporting event. Red Bull Air Race is the equivalent of the Formula One series on land run by that by Bernie Ecclestone character, except this one is a Formula One Race in the air.

And the Bernie Ecclestone of the Red Bull Air Race in Malaysia is my son-in-law. So I got TWO passes. One is a VIP Guest Pass Number 0002, which gave me certain privileges at the event, and the other is a Media pass that included a full scale Aerobatic Flight in the same plane that did the demo aerobatic display over Putrajaya Lake today.

 

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And what a thrilling flight it was. I have a Private Pilot’s Licence, and I have logged more than 400 hours, but the Cessnas and Pipers I’ve flown could never, ever do the stunts this special aerobatic plane could do. When we were doing upside down flights, stall turns, loops, barrel rolls, knife edge flying on the rudder, and four point rolls, my balls were literally in my mouth as we pulled at least 5Gs in the turns, rolls and dives. It’s an experience like no other, and there was a go pro camera taped to the flight control panel which recorded every grimace, every near throw up moment, and every orgasmic spike displayed by my face. They’ve promised to give me a copy of the footage, and if they do, I promise I’ll post excerpts here.

The seven leg Red Bull Air Race will kick off in Abu Dhabi on Feb 28th to March 1st next year. All you hard core air-race fans should book your air tickets NOW to get the best rates. And as my son in law is organizing this race in Malaysia, the Putrajaya leg will be on 17-18 May, because my birthday is 18th May (just kidding…but seriously, my birthday is really May the 18th., so I hope my son in law is reading this, and maybe he’ll buy me an aerobatic plane as my 70th. birthday present next year….).

Here’s the full 7 race Red Bull Air Race calendar for 2014:

1. Abu Dhabi, UAE 28 Feb. /1 March
2. Putrajaya, MAS 17/18 May
3. Gdynia, POL 26/27 July
4. Ascot, GBR 16/17 August
5. Dallas/Fort Worth, USA 6/7 September
6. Las Vegas, USA 11/12 October
7. CHINA 1/2 November

The Red Bull Air Race started in 2003 but was suspended in 2011 in order to get agreement on new safety enhanced rules. During previous races, competitors raced in high-performance airplanes between only 15 and 25 meters above the ground and navigate a challenging obstacle course of Air Gate pylons at speeds of up to 370 kph. You can get more info from www.redbullairrace.com. Under new rules, competitors now race fast, agile and lightweight racing planes which have standard engines and propellers. Its a little bit safer for the pilots. They navigate a low-level aerial track made up of air-filled, lightweight, nylon pylons which are now 25 meters high and easier and safer to burst if the wings of racing aircraft clip them. . One of these pylons was inflated in a demonstration at Putrajaya Lake today.

A new a sporting highlight of the Red Bull Air Races that is being introduced in 2014 is the new Challengers Cup competition which will give new pilots who qualify for that race, a stepping-stone experience for possible consideration to join future races. Red Bull will also organize several training camps during the season. Hopefully one day, we’ll have a Malaysian pilot competing in these exciting races.

Anyway, here are a few photos from my exciting day today. I’ll try and post more later.

First I flew in a helicopter from Putrajaya to Subang. ViPs are not supposed to suffer the traffic crawl on a normal working day. Since there is a shortage of police outriders as they have all been booked by our ministers, I had no choice but to accept their offer of hitching a ride on a helicopter that was returning to Subang:

 

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This is the plane that Peter Besenyei flew during the demonstration Aerobatic Display in Putrajaya. I was going to fly in this plane, and I’m all cool and calm on the outside ….. (Pssst…. Trembling with trepidation inside, especially when they insisted I put on a parachute, and was given a 2 minute lesson on how to jump out, and which cord to pull, if there were any problems with the plane. Oh, they also said, make sure you jump to your left, because if you jump on the right, the torque of the engine will twist the plane to the right, and you might be hit by the plane as you jump, and if you are stunned, you wont have time to pull the cord. And you know what, the control tower only allowed us to fly below 1500 meters, and all our aerobatics were supposed to be that close to the ground. Where would anybody have time to open the canopy, jump out, pull the cord, avoid being hit, etc, in the space of 30 seconds. God, I must be crazy….but crazy-brave. As you near your seventieth birthday, not many things really scare you.

 

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And this is Peter Besenyei as he flew under the Putrajaya bridge during the show. This photo is from a camera fixed to the wing of Peter’s Plane. I was flying over Pulau Indah and it would have been fun to fly under a few of those container cranes, but Sergio wouldn’t let me, and Tan Sri Gnanalingam wouldn’t have been pleased.

 

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And this is yours truly, all strapped up, and about to get my soul severely tested. I remembered saying a few prayers as I squeezed into the tight cockpit. There were so many buckles to tie you down because you dont want to fall out of the plane as it does all those deliciously sickening rolls and twists and stalls and loops and uppy-sidey downs etc ….

 

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And I’m all strapped in and I’m all ready to go. The control tower voice was a lady, and she was giving the QNH, the wind direction and wind speed, and runway to take off from, and those usual goobdiy-gook that they say over the aircraft radio all the time. Half the time we cant hear what they are saying, but if you are a pilot, you’ll know what to catch and what to ignore. The QNH is the most important coz thats used to set up your altimeter….

My back up pilot in the back seat was Sergio Merino, the Head of Aviation and Sports at Red Bull. I said to him he needn’t tag along, but he insisted on coming for the ride. I believe they dont trust me with their little plane. That’s why Sergio insisted on coming along. He’s the Head Honcho at Red Bull, so I couldn’t argue with him.

yusuf_004Here’s another wing Photo of Peter Besenyei with the Putrajaya mosque in the background. This photo is also courtesy of Red Bull, and issued to Media Reps in the media pack for editorial use. I wish I had strapped my Go Pro to the wing and get a similar photo of myself with the Twin Tower in the background. But I know the DCA doesn’t like people to do aerobatics below 1000 meters near the Twin Tower, because the Towers are nearly 500 meters high….

 

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And here’s yours truly safe and sound on the ground after my terrifying but exhilarating aerobatic flight this afternoon. in a real Red Bull Aerobatic plane. Non the worse for wear, and ready to go up again if only they would let me. If you ask me, what’s the nearest comparison to a land based activity that can be compared to flying a fully aerobatic plane? Well, the nearest experience I can describe it is that it’s a little like jumping the bungee in the Zambesi Gorge at Victoria Falls, multiplied by ten times.

 

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And this last photo was shot by me at the Putrajaya lake this morning when Peter was doing his aerobatic show. It’s been an exciting morning for me. And days like this dont come very often. Thank you Adam for the thrills. And thank you Eric, Sergio, Greg and all those people at the hanger in Subang, who made sure the Zivko Aeronautics Edge 540 was airworthy….

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