How to Feel Like a Formula 1 Driver for Under $300


Only elite racing drivers get to experience - routinely - three or four Gs. The rest of us can only dream … or maybe not. The video above is - quite possibly - insane. Pathalogically. Crazy. But cool. But definitely crazy. It’s one of the most profoundly comfort-zone obliterating experiences you’ll ever have.

And, yeah - Formula One drivers experience the majority of their G in the transverse plane (ie, laterally, as in cornering) whereas the majority of G in flight is straight up and down - but the G loads are hard to come by anywhere else. Admittedly these are in a different direction.

That said, there is one other way to feel those insane, elite motor racing kind of G loads. A cheaper way. Much more accessible. You can afford it. All you need to do is find a bloke prepared to take someone like you, who’s probably never flown an aircraft, and teach you aerobatics - in under 30 minutes. 

Pete Townsend is the Chief Flying Instructor of The Australian Aerobatic Academy. He says while it might seem counterintuitive, there are good reasons to kick off one’s career as a pilot upside down.

Pete Townsend:

"The reason we loop and roll in Lesson One is: it takes away the pre-conceived notion that aeroplanes can be dangerous if mis-handled. It takes away the notion that if you roll past 60 degrees angle of bank that the aeroplane is going to do something untoward or unfamiliar. 

"To fly very accurately takes a lot of finesse and a lot of talent. That comes with experience, but to go and loop and roll on lesson one and say 'hey, there's nothing in this aeroplane that's going to hurt you, provided you know how to control it' - if I can teach you the limit of control-ability in lesson one then everything else is a piece of cake."

Apparently, anyone can be taught to loop and roll - in under 30 minutes. It's true: the experience is, simply awesome. Play the video - you'll see. We did several loops, several autorotation (aileron) rolls, and combined it at the end - about 30 minutes later with a 4G loop flowing into a roll ... and Pete's hand off the stick the whole time. Insane.

Then, just for kicks, he demonstrates an awesome maneuver called a 'stall turn' where you fly vertically until gravity overcomes the propeller's thrust, and then a boot-full of rudder sees the airframe pivot in the plane of yaw to nose down, and the world's most gentle barrel roll to ice it off. Very, very cool.

Then he lets you land the plane, possibly the most clinically insane part of the entire 45-minute sortie. Landings are mandatory...


If you drove a car the way you fly an aerobatic plane, two things:

  1. It would fall apart in a couple of weeks.
  2. You’d be frog-marched off the set in handcuffs - every time - and quite possibly even sent to Australia on a square-rigger...

Aerobatics is where sensory overload and the need for crystal clear awareness collide. It occurs completely in the moment, and just like motor racing, there are consequences if you get it horribly wrong. You’re a long way up, and the ground is very, very hard.

But aerobatics is not only about adrenaline, fun and precision.  Aerobatic training makes sense - just like advanced driving.

Pete Townsend:

"The reason aerobatic pilots make better general pilots is: well, number one, they've seen the whole upside-down situation, whereas 90 per cent of pilots haven't. The initial reaction to that is the same as my initial reaction to when I first did a loop, which was [disorientation/shock]. That reaction time can mean the difference between life and death at low level. If you put an aerobatic pilot into a straight-and-level machine, he knows exactly what that aircraft can and can't do. And he can fly it to those limits, even though it may not be designed to do so."

Flying aerobatics is … amazing. It’s flying like you stole it. Clark Kent feels this way when he steps out of the phone box wearing the stupid red and blue Spandex jumpsuit from Krypton. Pete Townsend is a good teacher and a great bloke. And brave - letting someone like me land an aircraft. I would not let me do that. That’s insane.

Three hundred bucks for an hour of that is the adrenaline overdose bargain of the decade. The airframe will deliver  plus six and minus three Gs on command, and you experience plus four and zero in lesson one. It’s awesome. And cheap, especially compared with motor racing. It’s fifteen thousand bucks a year for one hour a week of insane G-loads. No speed cameras. No cops. Spend the first year getting fully qualified, it’ll cost you $20 grand. Not exactly chicken feed, but hardly an elite motor racing budget, either.

Aerobatics is fantasy land come true. They do aerobatics in heaven. Guaranteed. And, in hell, everyone does aerobatics … except you.

If Miranda Kerr phones me later and says, ‘Hi, I’ve been wanting to get together, just you and me. Come up and see my etchings.’ I’ll be saying: ‘Sorry, baby - gotta fly.’

Aerobatics is that good.

If you don't get why, you probably aren't wired to understand why. But if you are, aerobatics 101 is a must-do experience.

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