How to loop the loop

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The Independent Culture
A small, worshipful crowd has gathered on the runway of a near- deserted, north Suffolk airfield to adore Brian Lecomber and his beautiful machine.

After spending several minutes painstakingly explaining the ins and outs of his spanking, new, state-of-the-art aircraft, Brian asks if there are any questions. "Er, yes," I nervously inquire. "Where do you keep the sick bag?"

The others seem bemused but my motto is, and always has been, never underestimate the up-chucking possibilities of looping the loop, while dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

As someone who is periodically seasick, airsick, carsick and, sad but true, railsick, I would be foolish to ignore the regurgitational ramifications of going up-diddly-up-up and then down-diddly-down-down. So, the question seems a reasonable one to put. Brian, however, simply taps his teeth with the stem of his pipe and continues to extol the virtues of his plane, with particular reference to its acceleration of 0-to-60mph in five seconds from take-off, its carbon-fibre wing stressed to more than 20G, and its roll-rate of 370 degrees per second.

Pretty impressive stuff, we all agree. The mention of roll-rate, however, prompts a follow-up query: "Do any passengers actually get sick after these rolls?"

Brian, looking cool in his shades, white T-shirt and blue jeans, smiles benignly. "We do a lot of hospitality flying," he assures me, "and the last time we actually had anyone be sick was four years ago. People often feel queasy. But if you feel queasy you've got the most out of it. Most people aren't going to get the chance to have an experience like this ever again. It's a one-off and the price of having wobbly legs is worth it."

In a pathetically transparent attempt to delay the mortifying moment, I ask Brian - author, manager of a Caribbean flying school, chief pilot of one of Europe's top aerobatic display teams and a pipe-smoking wing- walker to boot - what the attraction is, exactly.

A pregnant pause. Then a sigh. "I figure I'm very lucky," he says, finally. "Other people just exist, I live. It's the artistry of the thing. I see the sky as a platform and I paint it."

The canvas beckons. As I struggle with my headset and cloth cap, the publicity chap waxes lyrical about Brian's excellent adventures.

The press release claims his CV "could probably serve as a character- sketch for a colourful hero in one of his novels".

It's time for the talking to stop and the painting to begin. Putting my best trainer forward, I clamber into the passenger seat.

Then, before you can say "Biggles flies again", we're up, up and away, soaring towards the sun with easy grace, the burning blue skies below us, the patchworked-fields of Eye above us.

Hold on. Shouldn't it be the other way around? "We are formating inverted," Brian informs me. Upside down you mean? "Yes, of course," he replies.

It takes a few seconds for my stomach to register this. "Just one or two gentle manoeuvres before we really get going." After a few more inverted flips, vertical rolls and knife-edge flicks it becomes clear I am about to be re-acquainted with the contents of my stomach. "We're going to loop now. We'll just keep pulling till all goes green again."

For some reason, the word "green" triggers me off. The pilot thrusts a small bag my way, just in time. "Would it be possible to land now?" I splutter.

Back on the runway, the small, worshipful crowd regroups to pay homage to a dashing hero of the skies. "Wow, that was a fantastic display," the Eye Show organiser enthuses.

Brian humbly pays tribute to his "strong, agile" plane. While he is holding forth on the merits of the knife-edge flick, a particularly-tricky manoeuvre he and co-pilot Alan Wade have been working on for the past month, his acrobatically-challenged passenger holds forth behind a battered Fiesta.

Any questions? "Er, any idea where I put this bag."


Hospitality flights: Brian Lecomber, of Firebird Aerobatics (01296 631102). For lessons contact Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Cambridge St, London SW1 (0171-834 5631)