On Thursday the 9th May, I received confirmation that I would need to attend a training camp in Spain starting on the 13th of May, this would be to compensate all the challengers that had missed their training slots in Abu Dhabi in February. And also to make sure we are all current before attempting the operations in and out of Kazan’s difficult makeshift airfield!
On the flight to Madrid via Heathrow, I starting coughing and feeling rather ill which was definitely not what I needed before getting back into the track after nearly 7 months. On arrival in Madrid, I made a quick visit to the pharmacy to get some goodies with which to self-medicate myself. The only problem resulting, besides the language barrier in explaining what I was in fact doing in Spain, was that I needed to present all the medication to our team doc, who then advised that if I wanted to fly at all I would not be able to take most of the items I had just bought. This was clearly not an option, so holistic treatment it was!
Monday morning the schedule showed my slot in the track at 09h30 with another 2 slots thereafter. Sick or not, it was going to be a busy day. I could not wait; keeping in mind that this was the same place where I had started my RBAR association some 3 years before! Steve and Klaus conducted the morning’s briefing pointing out all the hazards and cautions in the area and giving all the pilots a brief run-down as to what we were going to try to achieve in the next flights.
Even though the training camps are designed to allow you to try new lines and ideas, the safety of the crew is still top priority and closely controlled by the RBAR management team. My First flight would consist of a test flight overhead the track for a few safety figures and then right down for a flight of the track at ‘pimple’ height to get a feel for the G-loadings, because in this specific track there are three low, flat, high G turns that needed focus.
The rest of the days flying was made up of proper track flying with various starting options. Some options with a safety line to the right of the start gate, forcing me to do a slight S-turn to the left to enable me to make gate 2 into the chicane and then also using 200 knots as an entry speed rather than the usual 180 knots. Although this is only 20 knots difference, it makes the track appear to rush at you at warp speed!
I try to run through all possible scenarios mentally before getting into the plane, but not having official timing available at this camp, makes it somewhat difficult to improve. The best you can do is review the GOPRO videos and make assessments from what can be seen there.
Day 2 and I was feeling even worse than before (so much for holistic healing). I actually only had 2 flights scheduled for this day, for which I was rather grateful, as much as it is insanely fun, it is still very demanding on the body and mind! The first run in the track left me with a wind 180deg opposite to the day before, making it a tailwind through the chicane with a now very tight left to make gate 4 after the chicane. This lasted the first lap, but not the second.
After I went around 3C, I gave the plane a pull to correct the heading through the gate, but realised that my sight picture was not a pretty one. So I opted to unload the aircraft (to avoid hitting the pylon with rudder and loaded under G, which could cause a negative flick), pointed the nose upward and ploughed straight through the outside pylon on gate 4. When I looked again I was on the other side of the pylon, but with a large amount of pylon residue still attached to both wings. I remember thinking; “wow that was a big one!”
The protocol to clear pylon bits off the plane is to first fly the aircraft to a safe altitude, then ensure that all flight controls are ok and finally complete a tail slide or two to get rid of the remaining pylon that was still clinging to the plane. Luckily for me the material came off on the first slide and I was happy with the plane so descended straight back and into the track.
I guess it’s all good practise although a very daunting feeling just before impact. I am proud to say that this was the only pylon I hit for the training and although it’s one more than I would have liked to have hit, the other guys had quite a few more hits than I did!
With Kazan now just around the corner, I am confident to say that I am now hungrier than ever to hear the South African anthem play from the top step of the podium. That said, best I stay a little further away from the pylons…