18 Jan
Hitting 7 G's + 300 miles per hour & living to tell the tale

Aerial adventure company Sky Combat Ace invited Nicolas Stecher to jump aboard one of their Extra 330 LC stunt planes — the most agile prop plane on Earth — and fly with one of their fighter pilots for AskMen. Little did he know that he would be piloting his own plane through an Evel Knievel list of stunts. This is his story of what seven G’s will do to a human body…

We’re currently 3,500 feet above Malibu and climbing vertiginously, shooting straight into the sky at 300 miles per hour. The blood is quickly leaving my frontal lobe and draining to my cerebellum. My stomach, conversely, has decided to KO its duties and leapfrog my esophagus in its digestive tract positioning. Everything in front of my eyes, which is to say the sun and clear California stratosphere, is brilliant blue. I think I’m gonna pass out.

Then, the single Lycoming 6-cylinder engine on our Extra 330 LC plane slows to an idle. The bassy thrum in our cabin quiets, everything goes silent. “OK, we’re gonna twist over to the left. When you see the horizon pass by and we’re headed straight down, wait for my command and get ready to pull back on the flight stick,” a voice says calmly over my earpiece.

For a moment I think it’s God offering me one final path to salvation. And then from the foggy depths of my bloated cerebellum I recognize it’s the voice of instructor Richard “Tex” Coe crackling over the intercom, and I realize this has nothing to do with God. In fact, after getting to know the retired fighter pilot a little bit, I think it might have a lot more to do with his brimstone and fire-infused arc angel. And then it happens, exactly as Tex describes. I tighten my grip on the joystick-like controller and push it gently, only about three-quarters of an inch, to the left. Instantly the Extra stunt plane rotates as if on a swivel, swift and smooth. The Santa Monica Mountains suddenly spring up from out of view behind me and clockwise swing from the left to the right side of the glass canopy. My stomach swallows my heart; the brilliant blue of the sky is replaced by the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean, brushed with the white caps of breakers. And now we’re headed straight down, plummeting towards the water, and our imminent deaths, at negative 3 Gs. Lighter than weightless.

I have never known fear like this. It is complete. Robust. All encompassing. And yet, strangely fulfilling.

Every cell in my body revolts at the utter unnaturalness of what it is experiencing. I fight to keep some semblance of clarity. My life is literally in my hands as I hold the stick firm, hurtling towards a watery grave, waiting for a command from the divine voice to come booming over my earpiece. It’s hard to breathe.

Flying upside down in the Extra 330 plane below. Hit the Jump to continue reading “Aces High: Pulling Crazy Aerial Stunts & Risking Your Life With Sky Combat Ace”…

“Very few people in the world can do the type of maneuvers you’re gonna do today, because very few planes are capable of doing it…”

“Ok, pull up!” the bodyless voice barks. I pull the stick towards me as the engine rips back to life and the plane begins to correct itself, moving from perpendicular to the ground to the much more panic-free parallel, segueing from negative 3 to positive 4 Gs while seemingly all the blood in my body pools at my feet. “Nicely done!” says God, I mean Tex, from behind me as we zoom over the coastline dotted with ten-million dollar homes shimmering in the afternoon sun. A cold sweat covers my bloodless cheeks, and trickles down my neck into the valley of my spine. I just completed my first, but what would not be my last, Hammerhead.

Just a couple weeks ago I’d never even have imagined I’d be in a state-of-the-art plane as it executed a grocery list of high altitude stunts: loops, barrel rolls, aileron rolls, hammerheads, tumbles, freestyles, etc. But it’s one thing to be a passenger in a plane as it executes these complex maneuvers — a thrilling thing, at that — but to actually pilot the plane through them? No way, wasn’t even in my paradigm of reality. And that is what is truly miraculous about the Sky Combat Ace experience: you’re not just sitting impotent while an expert takes you through a series of stomach churning exercises — it is you that holds the control stick, that maneuvers this incredibly agile carbon fiber-constructed machine as it cuts through the skies at hundreds of miles per hour. It is you living a parallel life, experiencing something 99% of us never imagined possible.

Having testdriven the world’s finest automobiles — from the atomic brutality of the 1200-horsepower Bugatti Veyron to the crisp nimbleness of the McLaren MP4-12C — I can say that nothing on Earth compares to flying an Expert 330. The Ducati Panigale? Not even close. Those who have flown a plane know the sensation; those who have not can only imagine the visceral thrills of three-dimensional freedom. And even if you have taken pilot lessons, it’s highly unlikely that it was done in a vehicle with the performance of the Expert. It is the most agile non-experimental prop plane in existence, able to roll 420 degrees per second while withstanding up to +/- 25 Gs of force (though its safety rated to 10 Gs, still more than an F16 fighter plane).  It is a brilliant apotheosis of German engineering. “At full deflection it’s really gonna knock you on your rocker!” Tex warned me during our pre-flight training session. “Very few people in the world can do the type of maneuvers you’re gonna do, because very few planes are capable of it.”

Which is to say a very good thing, for there must exist an absolute, unflappable faith in the machinery. If you even begin to question the integrity of the plane you’re flying thousands of feet in the air, suspect its engineering could falter for even a second given the horrific physical stress your subjugating it to, then you’re all over; there is no recovering from that panic. This is something you will ponder with Buddhist gravity while you nervously slip on that parachute over your jumpsuit, and instructors are teaching you how to pop the canopy in case of emergency ejection. Up there it’s just you, Tex and a small one-ton plane hurtling across the sky with only a 330 horsepower engine guarding the portal between here and afterlife.

Head to AskMen to finish reading Aces High: Madness, Crazy Aerial Stunts & Risking Your Life With Sky Combat Ace, including exclusive photos.

 “Up there it’s just you & a 330 horsepower engine guarding the portal between here and afterlife…”

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