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CAPE TOWN JETS: What's It Like?

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Thunderbirds - an interview with Michael Beachy Head as he climbs into the cockpit of the Buccanneer. From Sunday Life, Independent Online, Cape Town

Wings Over Cape TownWings Over Cape Town Click on photos to enlarge

A letter from PT, who flew the Hunter over Cape Town (December 2002):

Dear Boys and Girls

Just had to email you all to make you all green with envy. A couple of days ago flew a 50 min flight in a Swiss Hunter with Mike Beachyhead as pilot (the chief of Thunder City who flies the Lightning and Buccaneer). Had an hours’ briefing on how to use the ejector seat with all its attendant straps and oxygen supply connections beforehand. Instructed the wife in digital photography beforehand as thought we might be throwing the Hunter around quite a bit so left Carol Ann and the camera on the ground. Wings Over Cape Town

Took off in formation with another Hunter (the black one) and we both flew out over Capetown at 1500 feet. Flew to a military practice area 5 minutes (at 400 km/h) north when we broke right and the other Hunter broke left. Mike then let me take the controls for some general handling at 400 km/h. Then Mike did some aerobatics - aileron rolls, wingovers, barrel rolls and loops – finally pulling 4.5g at 1000km/h entry speed for the loops. He then let me have a go at some aileron rolls, loops, a half Cuban and wingovers.

Then did some low level work – simulated ground attacks - beating up a deserted beach at 100ft at 1000km/h (Mach 0.9) – feeling of speed was incredible! Then Mike flew his air display routine – bloody hell! Loops, Cubans, Derry turns, hesitation rolls, rapid aileron rolls and vertical rolls up to 11,000 feet – at one stage we pulled a sustained 5.5g (the Hunter is stressed up to +7g) turn for about 15 seconds! It felt longer – the helmet and visor really press down hard on your head and the oxygen mask presses so hard down on your nose it feels bruised afterwards. I felt the beginnings of greying out – with peripheral vision going and colour vision beginning to go. No G-LOC though thank god! Also it gets really hard to breathe as well as move but then I was weighing 550kg at the time!

After about 30mins of intense aerobatics at full RPM we were down to 700lbs of fuel – started with 1400lb so Mike let me fly it back to Capetown to join right base runway 19 behind a 747-400 when I thought it prudent to hand back to him! Unfortunately there was a Tomahawk PA38 in the circuit otherwise Mike would have let me fly a circuit after a go-around – but such is life. Wings Over Cape Town

Landed after 50 mins flying hot and sweaty and probably a bit cerebrally hypoxic from all that g force! I am now probably an inch shorter. If you look at Mike in the photos you would never have guessed he used to be over six feet tall until he started to fly all of those aerobatics!

The bad news is that I now have to compensate Mrs. C with a piece of jewellery to her specification – another example of how two wrongs can make a right!

PT and Carol Ann (chief photographer)

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