Now options abound if you have a valid pilot's license: Even without an aerobatic endorsement, you can actually get the controls and do simple loops and barrel-rolls, or perhaps even engage in a dogfight.
In my case, with only a day's notice, and hardly over twenty hours of non-aerobatic flight experience which are already over 10 years stale - my options were limited to joy flights. I found a small organization that conducts short joy rides in the legendary Tiger Moth. The most surprising thing was the airfield where these rides are conducted. The RAAF Williams Point Cook Airbase is known for being the oldest operational airbase anywhere in the world. It is also the birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force (which was known as the Australian Flying Corps at the time).
My flight was scheduled for 10:15 AM on Sunday morning, with a briefing at 10:00 AM. It turns out that George, an old friend and aero-modeling mentor from my school days just happened to be living at Point Cook, by sheer coincidence. Unlike me, over the years, he has taken the pains to realize the kind of childhood dreams we'd shared - He actually does a good deal of RC flying, and also has a pilot's license. We decided to meet at the RAAF Museum, which is also located within the airbase and also open to the public.
I had flown into Melbourne the day before; not only was I tired from this flight, I was also generally sleep deprived and seemed to have caught a cold. I spoke to the Tiger Moth joy flight people, who advised me that the aerobatics would not be very wild, but that one must be prepared for experiencing up to 3G. This worried me somewhat, both because of my tourist-weary state, and also because of my general physique (lanky/skinny, poorly developed abdomen/torso muscles). The best I could hope for was to do some sit-ups prior to the flight, and eat a compact, dry, yet nutritious breakfast. This is not something I even bothered to research, I just assumed that it would help.
I promised to meet George at the RAAF Museum, joking that this was provided that I did not pass out on the flight.
So did I?
I arrived at 10:00, and there was hardly any briefing. There was a small hangar (actually just a tent), and a couple of Tiger Moths and a Yak-52. I was greeted by three men, one of whom was the pilot and they simply tossed me a jacket and asked if I was ready to go. I asked if there was a toilet, to which they replied, "If you just want to take a leak, go for it." and pointed to the nearby bushes. I did so, and also took the opportunity to do some 50 sit-ups before I returned to put on a warm leather jacket, gloves, a helmet and hopped right into a Tiger Moth cockpit. They strapped me in, swung the propeller, the engine started and we were off. I have flown a plane with a tail-dragger undercarriage before; (the HAL Pushpak), so I was familiar with the experience of Taxing without being able to look over the nose. To my untrained ear, the engine sounded great, I remarked so over the intercom, but over the noise all I could hear back was something about the plane being very old.
Take off was not very interesting, but I was surprised how quickly we were airborne. At hardly a hundred feet, we banked sharply to the left and then climbed to 700 feet, headed off to a vantage point between the airfield and the city which was supposed to be the scenic leg of the flight, over the ships, beaches and fields. The Melbourne skyline was very clearly visible.
We then climbed to 4000 feet. I should mention that up until now I had the wind in my face, sans goggles. I put them on, and mentally prepared myself for 15 minutes of aerobatics, the format of which I was not told in advance, but the pilot did ask if I was feeling OK, and once we hit 4000 feet, we started with a dive, a loop, then a few barrel rolls. The first sensation was not like I expected, but very exhilarating nevertheless. I did the whole stomach-flexing and breathing routine, and did not feel the least bit uncomfortable. I think I let out a yell of exhilarated joy at the end of the first barrel roll, and quickly asked how many G's we'd pulled. I doubt there was an accelerometer on board, but was told we'd probably pulled some 2.5G. I felt like I could handle some more, and replied saying so when asked if I'd like to try something more wild. Thus followed a few more minutes of slightly more intense maneuvers, which I think began with a short spin. Only the spin was slightly scary, but I was having too much fun as we pulled out of it, gained speed and did a series of maneuvers I could not clearly identify because I was looking all around enjoying every minute.
"She's not bad for an ol' girl, eh?"Said the friendly pilot. The G's felt stronger towards the end but I think I could have handled a little more. We landed in the grass, and I tried in vain not to smile like a monkey as we taxied to a halt. And that was that. They just said bye, and I was on my way.
I met George at the Museum, and we took some photos of the F-111 Aardvark, a plane I have always been fascinated with:
The Museum was OK. As one can expect, they support the theory that Von Richthofen was killed by Australian infantry (machine gun fire) when he flew too low in pursuit of an RFC machine. I wish I had also taken photos of the Mosquito, yet another object of my childhood fascination (what aircraft wasn't?) at the restoration hangar, but oh, well.