Flight Plan

Global Stars — crossing many a hurdle to take to Indian skies

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on April 28, 2020 Published on April 28, 2020

Hyderabad, Telangana, 13/03/2020: Flying enthusiasts from U.K.-based Global Star performing acrobatic manoeuvres as part of the second day of Wings India-2020 at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad on March 13, 2020. Photo: Nagara Gopal / The Hindu   -  Nagara Gopal@thehindu

Acrobatic flying team from the UK shares details of the exhaustive preparation that goes into their breathtaking moves

Their love for India and the chance to do another round of acrobatic flying at the recently concluded Hyderabad air show saw the Global Stars team of flying enthusiasts from the UK participating in the four-day air show despite the shadow of the coronavirus looming large.

What brought Global Stars’ eight pilots, who are qualified to do acrobatic flying, together, and keeps them together, is their enthusiasm for flying and the thrill of acrobatic flying. Coming to India to take part in the air show meant that this team, which has participated in air shows across the world, had to deal with some logistical issues. Last time one of them flew one of the six planes that the team uses — the German-made Extra 300 — he had to make a number of stops on the way, including in France, Greece, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan.

Hence, this year they decided to ship the aircraft and reassemble them on arrival. Incidentally it takes one-and-a-half a days to assemble an aircraft. “It takes about six people just to lift the wing and put it in place,” said Chris Burkett, a member of the team. Each aircraft costs about a quarter of a million pounds.

Doing acrobatic flying is not easy. The small aircraft fly at speeds of around 200 miles an hour and the pilots cannot afford to go very high as then their acrobatics will not be visible to those on the ground.

“Ideally, we should be flying at 2,000 feet or less. Otherwise we might not be clearly visible to the spectators on the ground. Sometimes we fly as low as 200 feet and the maximum we try and go is about 1,500 feet,” Burkett said.

Mirror Loop move

The performance that they put up in Hyderabad was breathtaking. One manoeuvre, the Mirror Loop, carried out by Stephen Craver and Burkett, had Craver flying the outside loop which meant that he and his aircraft were upside down. In the other aircraft, Burkett watched him closely to stay in a mirror position all the way. “Stephen’s job was to fly the loop while my job was to focus on him. I could almost reach out in the sky and touch his aircraft,” Burkett said, giving one a sense of how close the two aircraft were. The two flew at speeds of between 100 and 200 miles an hour.

Preparing for acrobatic flying involves mental rehearsal of the flying sequences over and over again to make sure that everyone knows where they should be in the air.

Such flying can be risky and almost all the pilots have had close moments. Burkett recalled that once while doing acrobatic flying in England the aircraft he was flying had an engine failure, forcing him to do a hard landing which broke all his vertebra. “But I recovered very quickly and was back in the air in about three months,” he added.

For Carver, a former commercial airline pilot with over 25 years of flying experience with a major UK carrier, this was his second visit to India. Having done both, he believes that commercial flying is more sedate, while acrobatic flying involves a lot more preparation and planning if the pilot does not want to get any unpleasant surprises while in the air.

“Indians are very appreciative of what we do,” Carver said, as he prepared to go up in the sky over Hyderabad. And this is perhaps the reason why the Global Stars team came even in such trying times to take part in the biennial Hyderabad air show.

Published on April 28, 2020
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