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Friday 16th March 2012


PH BLOG: PISTONHEADS TAKES TO THE SKIES

Dan gets an unusual view of Goodwood with a little help from Abarth


OK, let's get this out of the way first, the link between this aeroplane and Abarth doesn't go much further than a set of stickers on the skin and some money in the bank. This is sponsorship pure and simple, pilot Mark Jefferies getting petrol money to put in the tank and Abarth getting its name, literally, up in the clouds.

Sponsorship deal sees PH take to the skies
Sponsorship deal sees PH take to the skies
And there, the shameless axis on which all this spins in this instance, is PistonHeads. Shameless because when someone says 'do you want to go up in a stunt plane' all other thoughts go out of the window and the only response is 'where do I sign?'

I'm supposed to be riding up the hill in a Lotus but when the call comes that my plane is ready and a nice chap in an Alfa Romeo is waiting to drive me to the nearby airfield - sorry, 'aerodrome' in Goodwood speak - the boys from Hethel are going to have to get blown out.

The plane is waiting, its pilot - aerobatics champion Mark Jefferies - ready to go and a burly Aussie bloke in a black flight suit holding a parachute standing by. "Are you up for some loops and swoops then?" asks Mark as I'm strapped into the 'chute. Hell yeah! "You might regret saying that," says parachute guy.

Briefing contains vital puke related tips
Briefing contains vital puke related tips
"If you do have to chuck just pull your collar out and do it inside your T-shirt," he adds, apparently helpfully. "We don't want to make a mess in the plane." Further scatological advice comes with how to deal with big G forces: "Just squeeze all the muscles in your middle like you're taking a really big dump, well all apart from one, and that'll stop too much blood going into your legs."

I decide to concentrate on the plane instead. Comparisons between the Extra 300 we'll be flying in and your average supercar are actually not a million miles apart. A tubular steel frame and carbon fibre skin are a little behind the curve of the latest generation of mega motors but a Lotus-like dry weight of 660kg and a Lycoming air-cooled flat-six engine with around 300hp invite all manner of pick and choose automotive comparisons. The quarter of a million (or so) pricetag isn't a million miles out either. So, running with that idea, we've got a Lamborghini Muricelago's construction and pricetag, powered by a Porsche engine and with the kerbweight of a particularly stripped down Elise. Or something like that.

Or you could have a Lambo Murcielago
Or you could have a Lambo Murcielago
Even that fun sounding bastard offspring wouldn't be able to match the Extra's ability to pull 10G turns. Or, indeed, fly. Though the speeds are, surprisingly, not a million miles out too with the 300's manoeuvring speed listed as 168 knots - just over 190mph. Given what it's capable of it feels incredibly, well, flimsy.

As the cockpit slams shut I'm vaguely aware nobody has mentioned what I'm supposed to do with the parachute, though the warning on the ground not to pull the big red handle was probably a hint. We're bumping across the grass in no time though, the Lycoming flat-six smoothing out as the revs build and Mark pulling smartly up in what seems like no time. We circle about as another plane approaches to land and then head over to the house, where I can see the crowds on Lord March's lawn and various cars heading up the drive. Pah, cars. Boring!

"Mark, is there something wrong with the engine?"
"Mark, is there something wrong with the engine?"
Direction changes, when they come, are violent. The ailerons take up nearly the full width of the stubby 8-metre wingspan so when Mark flicks the stick sideways the roll is pretty much over before it's begun. "You OK?" he asks over the headset. My affirmative is clearly considered permission to continue and several rapid reversals of horizon follow. I'd expected to be more freaked out but when it happens I simply get the mental equivalent of a shrug and "OK, so we're upside down now ... and now we're not" and concentrate on savouring every second of the experience.

Mark's only pulling half of the 10G the plaque on the instrument panel suggests is available, the rapid-fire sequence of rolls - vertical and horizontal - and loops all playing havoc with my spatial awareness. But thankfully not his. "And that's the ground," comes Mark's voice as everything before me goes green rather than blue and the engine revs build as we dive. The view from the bubble canopy is extraordinary too - I can just about make out the engine cowling but apart from that my forward vision is just sky/ground/sky/ground [repeat to fade].

Direction changes are scarily rapid
Direction changes are scarily rapid
We plunge down to the aerodrome - the Goodwood track visible clearly - and then pull up just feet off the grass for a fast pass and break over the hangers and buildings for a low level loop and banked, side-slipping approach that has us at nearly 90 degrees to the ground until what feels like the last second before a yawed touchdown and return to (bumpy) terra firma.

Hands are shaken, my legs wobble a little bit and there are a few raised eyebrows that apparently nobody else seemed as 'up for it' as I did and then I'm back in my Alfa Romeo and dropped, a little dazed, among the champagne quaffing crowds outside Lord March's pad.

'Greetings, this is your captain speaking...'
'Greetings, this is your captain speaking...'
Which is a lot of effort to go to for me to tell you The Goodwood Aviation Show will now take place in - and over - the parkland around Goodwood House to make it more accessible to Festival Of Speed goers. So if you want to check out airborne as well as four-wheeled delights you can now do so on-site rather than having to make the short trip to the airfield.

Dan

 

 

Photos: Michael Ward


There is some video from the flight but, frankly, it doesn't show a whole lot being as how it was a fairly hazy day and there's little to give it context. But if you want an idea...

 

Author: Dan Trent