On a wing and a prayer

Journalist Nino Bucci takes a ride flying on Breitling wingwalkers at the Australian Airshow.
Journalist Nino Bucci takes a ride flying on Breitling wingwalkers at the Australian Airshow.

I have found myself thinking about Biggles lately.

This is not due to a longing for the mother country, or encounters with casual racists, but because of an upcoming date strapped to the wing of a biplane. To be flown by a Brit.

On Monday morning, that moment arrived.

The Breitling wingwalkers, a troupe with Biggles-like chutzpah, decided that strapping media types to the top of their plane while they warm up for the Australian International Airshow would have some merit.

As if life as a journalist isn't perilous enough.

After about an hour of instructions and planning, and wearing a harness that John Bigglesworth would undoubtedly poo-poo, I start a forensic audit of all I've had to eat in the past 24 hours. There seems to have been a bit too much yoghurt (Biggles Spews Again?).

David Barrell, my pilot, is less concerned about his stomach contents, having made a good fist of the local cuisine by eating two burgers the previous day.

His colleague Martyn Carrington, who will be flying the other biplane, takes care showing us how to get into the cockpit.

"They're very old planes," he says, before hastily adding as the colour drains from my face, "but regularly serviced, of course."

I'm strapped in not unlike Hannibal Lecter, hoping that I can live to enjoy another glass of chianti and wondering whether I should have rubbed sun lotion on my skin.

As the three shapely female wingwalkers watch on, dressed in black and starry overalls with flared pants, the propeller starts and we make our way towards the runway.

With the plane of my photographer to the right, we are soon facing the end of the runway and picking up speed.

The seat I'm on wobbles slightly, and the wind makes my eyes water as we approach take-off.

Soon we are in the air, I've lost control of my cheeks, and I am shouting and laughing at the same time in what sounds like a poor attempt at Dr Evil's maniacal cackle.

It does, not surprisingly, feel like flying – albeit without the grace you would imagine a bird would have.

Flying so close to another craft in formation, however, is a bit more avian, and a little unnerving.

Within a few minutes though I'm taking in the ocean, the You Yangs and the airshow site below, enjoying speeds up to 200 km/h and keeping my laugh-shouting to a minimum.

This is not at all like sky-diving, which I did from 15,000 feet in New Zealand three years ago.

The face-slapping wind is similar, as is the view, but there's something more exhilirating about flying this way, especially when David banks hard to the left, leaving me almost parallel with the ground.

He dips slightly at one point, and I wonder whether we are to go hurtling to the ground. At another point, he pulls up, as if to start a loop-the-loop, and that yoghurt threatens to make an appearance.

But before I know it, the nervous take-off, bizarre shouting and stinging winds are over, and we're staring down the tarmac ready to land behind the other Breitling plane.

The touch-down is incredibly smooth, and we taxi along the runway triumphantly.

We have not only defied logic, gravity and unsatisfied readers with slingshots in Lara, and satisfied the  insurance company that forced us to adhere to a five-page risk assessment and medical before we even looked at the plane.

At least our insurers allowed us to fly: those sooks representing TV land were too wimpy to allow one of their (admittedly better looking and therefore more valuable) reporters on the tarmac.

As I bask in my glory, while checking no splattered bugs are stuck to my face, David is nonchalantly preparing for his next flight. Biggles, as always, flies again.

This story On a wing and a prayer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.