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Do you feel the need, the need for speed? Then treat yourself to a day of death-defying aeronautical antics with the fearless throttle-jockeys of The Blades, says Freddy Barker

Do you feel the need, the need for speed? Then treat yourself to a day of death-defying aeronautical antics with the fearless throttle-jockeys of The Blades, says Freddy Barker 
 
 
LET ME TELL you, 3g isn’t a feeling that you experience every day. Standing still is 1g. Going from 0 to 60mph in a Bugatti Veyron is 1.2g. Boeing 747 takeoffs are 1.5g. This was 3g — equal to a space shuttle re-entering earth. It’s like having three times your body weight on you. And if that weren’t extreme enough, as the former leader of The Red Arrows’ Synchro Pair and I headed for the heavens at 175mph, you can imagine what it felt like to do a loop.

As we inverted, I hung upside down, staring at the patchwork of fields below. Nothing but a seatbelt stopped me plummeting 1,000ft to my death. Being so vulnerable yet having so little control was intensely humbling. Less than twenty feet away another airplane was performing the same death-defying stunt. In it was my colleague, Zain Alatas, eyes wide open in a bizarre expression of dumbfounded ecstasy.

With my upper lip reduced to jelly at this point, my pilot, Myles, gave me a breather. ‘Don’t worry, the plane is very strong, certified to plus or minus 10g, so we will give up before the aircraft,’ he chirped. Oh, the reassurance. The irony struck me that to the earth-bound observer, we were little more than a flying crucifix, and boy did that make me find God.


 
The Blades over the Needles on the Isle of Wight

For the next trick, Myles, an RAF veteran mentioned in dispatches in Kosovo, climbed again. This time we stopped at 2,000ft, at which point he said, ‘We are about to stall.’ We then, quite literally, fell out of the sky. I’m not sure what was more worrying — the use of the word ‘stall’ or the ground approaching at alarming speed. Uncertain whether to scream, pray or cry, I froze.

Checking that I was OK, Myles said, ‘Can you handle more?’ Mustering all the courage that remained, I agreed. With that, he halted the dive-bomb and looped upward again. Within seconds we were turning on a sixpence. Gone was the smooth stall turn. Here was the wild tumble, nose over tail, wing over wing. Through the chaos I heard Myles say, ‘This is a Lomcevak — Czechoslovakian for berserk headache.’ Never have words been truer.
 
 
ORSON WELLES HIT the nail on the head when he said, ‘There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.’ My experience with The Blades, a quartet of close-formation aerobatic pilots, was certainly the latter.

It was only later, when I watched a video of the flight, that the full lunacy set in. Yet to my amazement, I was told that The Blades were accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority to fly fare-paying passengers in close-formation aerobatics. That meant that the aircraft were engineered to airline standards, the pilots were qualified airline captains and the procedures — both on the ground and in the air — were airline standard, too.

The reason it’s so safe is the quality of the pilots and the planes. The Blades consist of nine airmen, with 25,000 fast-jet flying hours between them. Four are former Red Arrows, the world-renowned Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.

Uncertain whether to scream, pray or cry, I froze

Some have mind-boggling records. Myles Garland, the 39-year-old pilot who flew me, joined the Air Force straight after A-levels. After stints in Yugoslavia he was seconded to The Red Arrows and appointed squadron leader at the tender age of 29. His compatriot, Mark Cutmore — or Blade 4, as the Lincolnshire man likes to be known — used to be the RAF’s Jaguar display pilot, demonstrating the aircraft’s awesome capability around Europe. Others include wing commanders and squadron leaders — with two OBEs and a Distinguished Flying Cross between them.

Together, they fly Extra 300s, purpose-built German aerobatic airplanes weighing around 750kg (similar to a large cow). With 300 horsepower, they have impressive power-to-weight ratios of 5.5 lb/hp, ten times that of Messerschmitts. To put that in perspective, they can perform 420-degree turns in one second. Over the past five years The Blades have flown 500 displays in front of 18 million people and flown 1,000 lucky passengers. Since their launch at the Beckhams’ Full Length and Fabulous Ball in 2006, they have featured at Cannes, the Queen’s Birthday and the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix.

So long as you’re under 6ft 10in and 18 stone (that’s about 210cm and 114kg), you can participate, too. Most often, you’ll take the train to Wellingborough, 50 minutes from St Pancras. From there, it’s ten minutes to Sywell, where you’ll be met by The Blades’ hostesses, cabin crew recruited from BA First Class and Virgin Upper Class. Lunch and drinks ensue and it’s all very congenial.
 
 
AT £1,500 PER person (based on a minimum group size of twelve), you might ask how is this different to all the other HNW gifts out there? First of all, it’s a welcome relief to the never-ending supply of wine, watches and pens. It’s a life experience, not something to be tucked in a drawer. For anyone who’s sold their business, has hours on their hands and is fighting entrepreneurial bereavement, it’s the perfect antidote. It’ll make you feel alive. More to the point, it’ll make you feel grateful to be alive.

‘At this price point,’ says Phil Aiken, The Blades’ marketing man, ‘it is similar to the Formula One Paddock Club. There, you are one of several thousand people, or, if you are with one of the top teams, you are one of several hundred people.’

In contrast, at Sywell, the stars of the day, the pilots, sit and have lunch with you. From the moment you arrive, you’re embraced as part of the day. What’s more, it’s practical. No one wants to spend six months learning to float, ski or glide in an abandoned warehouse in north London.

So for an adrenaline buster close to home look to The Blades: it’s a low-hassle experience that very few people in the military have ever enjoyed, let alone civilians. What’s more, there are plenty of add-ons. For example, The Blades will leverage their connections to enable you to fly in one of the three remaining two-seater Spitfires in the UK. Fly with one of the team instructors and not only will the pilots do their tricks, looping you and rolling you, they will also allow you to take the controls.

For Spear’s subscribers reading this in the air, just remember that you’re at 40,000ft, charging along at 700mph and yet you’re sipping champagne. All flying is crazy. But its reward is more than convenience, it’s mental. It releases you from the tyranny of petty things.



 

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