Ride along with the Breitling aeronautics team – Vancouver Sun
When you squeeze into the cockpit of an L-39C Albatros, your view is about the same as it would be in a MiG fighter jet.
Right down to the Cyrillic wording on the instruments, the Soviet-era military trainer looks and feels every bit the part of the storied Russian fighter.
Until, that is, you spot the barf bag tucked within easy reach — they never showed those in Top Gun.
But they were a wise addition to the Breitling Jet Team‘s fleet of L-39s on Thursday afternoon, when a handful of reporters were invited to test their mettle in a 20-minute aeronautics ride-along in advance of this weekend’s Abbotsford Air Show.
The Breitling team bills itself as the world’s largest professional civilian flight team, and its pilots put on shows just like the one they’re preparing for Saturday and Sunday’s crowds.
Jacques “Speedy” Bothelin heads the team. He’s flown more than 11,500 hours in 145 types of planes in 38 countries and is personally responsible for having plucked the luxury watch company’s roster of pilots away from the French air force. As formation leader for Breitling, Bothelin flies the jet that is marked No. 1.
It was with Bothelin that this reporter went up with Thursday, after being fitted for a flight suit and helmet, climbing carefully up the sleek black and yellow plane and into the rear of the cockpit.
Bothelin has a kind demeanour and an easy smile. He apologized while taxiing past a pair of F-35 fighter jets that he wouldn’t be free to talk much as he would be communicating with the airport’s traffic control tower and the pilots flying to his four and eight, just three metres away.
Once in position on the tarmac, with the jet hunkered down under throttle, there’s a lot of time to think about life — and butterflies. It helped to focus on the Czech-made jet’s stark interior — the grey metal frame, the control stick (don’t touch), the handles that trigger your rocket-assisted ejection seat (really don’t touch).
When clearance came, the acceleration was strong and blew the butterflies away as the plane lifted off.
Bothelin asked the tower for “room to play” in the direction of Mount Baker — as high as 10,000 feet, he requested.
It was high above Cultus Lake that the pilots ran through the first few minutes of their routine, move by move. Breitling’s L-39Cs can fly 750 km/h horizontally. Nose toward earth — as Bothelin flew to gain speed for the team’s first trick — they can hit 910 km/h.
Bothelin gave plenty of warning before he started the routine, but he didn’t say what was coming. In retrospect, it’s a good idea to tighten your abdomen just in case the negative g-force in a dive shifts in the matter of a breath into a positive g-force climb — as it did.
G-force-induced loss of consciousness is a wordy phrase for blacking out and there are a few stages to it. First, your vision gets fuzzy as your blood pools in your lower body. Second, darkness floods in and you get tunnel vision. The stages come fast, but disappear just as quickly, leaving plenty of time to view the ground upside down and sideways.
“I would say we enjoy them very much,” Bothelin said of the planes after landing and stepping onto the tarmac. And with that he looked at his watch — a Breitling, naturally — and excused himself.
“I’m going to brief, in about seven minutes, my pilots for the next flight,” he said, explaining that the team would be flying a joint formation with the Snowbirds.
So did any reporters throw up? Not this one.