VR Proximity flight!
Feel like you're really flying down Tianmen Moutain
Pete Allum recounts the tale of a massive, elite demo, last minute style…
Words by Pete Allum – Photos by Zach Lewis & Ralph Wilhelm – Video by Zach Lewis
Until last week I had never been to China. So it was a real treat to be involved in the recent World Fly-in Expo in Wuhan, Hubei province. For so many reasons.
Firstly, thank you Solly Williams for asking me to help on the organizational side of the event, I have known him for many years and he brings heaps of experience and respect to any show.
The objective: With very short notice (this was August and the show started on the 1st of November), put together a 45 way formation and camera team at a massive air show in the centre of China, from 3 aircraft, from 11,000 feet.
The other team captains were, Marco Arrigo, Marcus Bastuck and Milko, between us all we assembled a clan that had to be able to build a formation in 30 seconds and be ready to deal with last minute changes and the usual adventures that accompany any trip to a distant land. The talent on the load included ex and current world champions as well as multiple world big way record holders.
Visas obtained (the first challenge), we met as a team on the 1st November and walked through our first jump, a 5 pointed star representing the one on the Chinese flag. Next challenge, sit down and discuss with the three pilot crews, via translators, the formation flying plan. What worked the best was getting them to dirt dive so we set up three mock aircraft with plastic chairs and ran through the sequence until it appeared that they had understood.
We had three days of practice before the show started and were hoping for 3-4 jumps a day to dial in the act. As is the way with huge affairs like this, the plan changed and we managed 4 practice jumps in total prior to the start. No problem, the pilots were improving on each jump and we had a plan for the skydive. The aircraft, a Y-12, looked very similar to a Twin Otter and were great to jump from.
The air show jumps were a pleasure, the ⭐️ built and with smoke being trailed from the aircraft and in the formation, the public were able to see it. After landing it would take on average 30 minutes to work through the massive and very appreciative crowd, each day a new sector of the local population would rock up to the show. Hubei province has approximately 19 million people in it and it felt like quite a large percentage made it to the show!
Now the star was built we could try something a little more challenging, the Chinese flag. This was going to prove a little more difficult but in the end the clan flew it beautifully.
Other excitement at the show: Every day there were mass balloon starts, Paramotor records, gyrocopter formations, aerobatics, jets, plus all the usual and not so usual craft. The local skydivers did some impressive demos setting off massive fireworks under canopy and bringing in some big no contact stacks. They also set up a rock concert for the evening's entertainment.
We did however have a real treat saved for the last day… the evening before the last day we had finally worked out where the VIP lounge was and had been welcomed in with open arms by our new best friend, Mr Lee. This was where we found out that there was going to be a world record 100 balloon flight, with 100 couples getting married in them the next morning. The evening progressed, as they often do and by the time we arrived back at the hotel, two of our party had decided to ask if they could also join the record. The organizers loved the idea and Milko and Sian became pair number 100! Congrats!
The last day of the show ended up being competition day for us. One of the objectives of the show was to showcase formation skydiving, so the organizers asked us to put something together. We split into three 15 way teams and the goal was to see how fast each team could build the letters WFE (World Fly-in Expo).
Marco’s team walked away with the honors and at the closing banquet we were all presented with medals and some stirring closing speeches. What a great crew of people to share this adventure with! The ‘no whining’ rule was completely respected and we did our best to showcase our beautiful sport to the Chinese public. How many of us, as kids went to an air show and were impressed by either an aircraft or parachute display and then went on to make it our passion?
How many of us, as kids went to an air show and were impressed by a display and then went on to make it our passion?